Pump up the energy at all costs and cut tracks down wherever possible.
To call Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s The High Country an LP is being extremely generous. The album clocks in at a meager 26 minutes and, even then, some tracks meander into the realm of filler. That said, the 15-year-old band’s fifth record is all summery indie-rock offerings, plenty of fuzz and wall-to-wall energy. Over the course of 11 short tracks, the mixtape-cum-album amps up the power from the breezy pop on display on 2013’s Fly by Wire. But SSLYBY still manage to balance driving rock with shoegazing indie, changing pace at the drop of a hat but holding true to their enthusiastic indie pop.
From the outset, it’s as though a bolt of lightning has struck the band. Opener “Line on You” unfolds at breakneck speed, lead guitarist Will Knauer shredding like his life depends on it. The interplay between vocalist Philip Dickey’s sunny delivery and Knauer’s prolific use of the distortion pedal creates a driving dynamic for the song as a whole. The track’s crunchy guitar riff pulls you along through moments of pure punk rock to dreamier bridges. With “Step Brother City,” we see a pattern in these heavy, two-minute grinders. The first single from the album, this track is even faster and more indebted to the band’s ecstatic pop. The chorus of “oohs” lightens the mood in the face of broody, chunky guitars.
If the album’s first two tracks cut the band’s indie pop with frenzied guitar work, “Gold Mine” and “Full Possession of all of Her Powers” return to their breezy sound with infectious hooks. The guitar line on “Gold Mine” is a thing of beauty, and “Powers” is all about the melody. “Powers” is hands down the most accessible song here and the epitome of their jangly indie pop aesthetic, the mid-tempo number is brilliantly simple. A throwback to ’90s pop à la Belle & Sebastian, the song waxes poetic about a girl and does so with a swinging rhythm.
The same goes for “Madeline,” in terms of subject matter, but the song’s production is refreshingly lo-fi. And while the shift from chirpy pop to demo-style acoustics doesn’t so much catch you off guard, it is normal occurrence on The High Country. SSLYBY change pace whenever it fits, and the effect can be all the more jarring considering their tracks are, for the most part, whittled down to the strongest two-minutes possible. To go from “Madeline,” a song that is completely sans percussion and features only Dickey’s plaintive vocal and finger-plucked guitars, to the “bring down fascists” rock anthem “Trevor Forever” certainly tests listeners.
“Song Will” similarly provides a shock to the system with its minute and a half of mostly indiscernible noise, but the guitar-driven closing tracks that surround it are all highlights of this new SSLYBY energy. “Foreign Future” is an upbeat and light pop track that pairs well with shamefully short “Magnet’s New Summer ‘Do.” SSLYBY bust out the reverb for finale “Total Meltdown” that combines this album’s spirited hooks and minimal lyrics with a punchiness that suits its upbeat brevity.
SSLYBY devoted themselves to two main goals on The High Country: pump up the energy at all costs and cut tracks down wherever possible. Judging just these two elements, the album is a short and forceful power-pop success. But, even at two-minutes each, some of these tracks fade together more than they should. That said, The High Country is by no means a misstep for SSLYBY. The commitment to fuzzed out guitars, deep hooks, propulsive percussion and short and sweet songs creates more catchy tunes than throwaways.