Don’t let the visuals – Freud would have a field day with the band’s frontpage web pic – mislead you. High Waisted really know their classic surf rock, and their 60s noir, and frontwoman Jessica Louise Dye’s high, clear, disarmingly direct voice adds understatedly striking contrast and frequent poignancy. Much as it’s unfair to compare this New York band with Australian noir powerpop legends the Passengers, or to put Dye’s voice up against the spine-tingling Angie Pepper, either way the similarity is striking: wounded ingenue out in front of a fiery, moody retro band. High Waisted’s new album On Ludlow makes an unlikely but refreshingly original candidate for one of 2016’s best releases. they’re playing the album release show tomorrow night, March 3 at 9:30 PM at the Mercury. Cover is $10.
The opening track, Trust is a noir mashup of doo-wop and surf rock building toward Lynchian angst with a sad, soul-infused vocal. Dye takes a mere lighthearted, nonchalant approach to some suspicious activity in the matter-of-factly wry, 60s girl-group infused Party in the Back, over Stephen Nielsen’s burning guitars and Jeremy Hansen’s snapping bass.
Shithead isn’t the novelty song the title implies: it’s an amped-up, straightforward, sad Twin Peaks kiss-off number with a bittersweetly ringing web of latin-infused reverb guitar behind the vocals. Likewise, Door builds a surreal, starlit mashup of wounded 50s pop balladry, Orbison noir and current-day, reverb-cloud surf: think a chirpier Fabienne Delsol backed by Strange But Surf.
Gold Tooth sounds like it’s going to be just another lame detour into post-Strokes Bushwick poser-rock until the band hits that first gorgeous chorus and then takes it into chord-chopping Dick Dale territory. After that, Hey Hey makes a return to wistfully amped-up major/minor changes.
Shanghai Spy is a blistering minor-key surf rock instrumental, and ironically the album’s best song, bringing to mind a more polished, less overtly macabre Ghost Scorpion. Wait takes a familiar, swaying Ventures hook and makes a Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood Vegas garage-pop escape anthem out of it, drummer Jono Bernstein pushing its surf drive, Nielsen firing off a savage blast of chord-chopping when the band hits the peak midway through.
Nuclear Lover isn’t about Dick Cheney or a Fukushima girlfriend: instead, the band grafts a moodily attractive chorus to an insistent mid-80s Cure verse. Maybe Baby has a distantly ominous om post-Phil Spector twinkle beefed up by the clang of the guitars: as the girl in the story professes her love to some random guy, you just know she’s going to get her heart broken. The album winds up with the album’s second instrumental. Kitchen Safari, a swirly spy theme that wouldn’t be be out of place in the Lost Patrol catalog. All this is totally retro yet totally in the here and now: it’s awfully cool to see this band putting their own original spin on a classic, angst-fueled 60 sound.
If you want to hear the album, it’s streaming at one of the web’s suckiest blogs – make sure your ad blocker’s working and mute the sound til you know the coast is clear. In the meantime, until it hits Spotify, there’s lots of good live and studio stuff at the band’s soundcloud and youtube channels.