Words On Wednesday

2016-03-30 Highly Suspect – Mister Asylum

The hard rock and alternative rock genres have been somewhat drab lately, with a lot of new releases being uninspiring or downright bad. Highly Suspect is an unexpected breath of fresh air, with the release of their Mister Asylum album.

My first exposure to Highly Suspect was “Lydia,” when New Rock 93.3 The Planet played it nonstop for a few weeks. From the beginning it was really catchy, but that’s what singles are for. Singles sell albums, but they don’t mean the whole album will be good. I looked up the song on the station log to figure out the name an artist, but I didn’t bother picking it up. A new artist has to prove themselves before I’ll buy an album, and I figured the library would eventually pick it up.

Sure enough, soon after the album came out, the library got a few copies in stock and I checked it out. For a few months, I only ever listened to “Lydia.” I knew it was catchy, and there was always something else I wanted to listen to. After a while, I decided to actually listen to the album in its entirety. With music already in my collection, may as well see if it’s any good.

My expectations were minimal. If I’ve only ever heard of a band for one popular single, I automatically assume the rest of the album will be garbage. Perhaps it’s too critical of me, but I’d rather predict a bad album and be pleasantly surprised, than to have high hopes and find out that the album as a whole sucks. Luckily, this was a situation of unexpected delight, and I was genuinely impressed with the album. Not necessarily blown away at first, but impressed for sure.

The first few times through the album, nothing besides “Lydia” really stood out. Solid as a whole, and certainly a few high points here and there, but nothing really stuck. An album I would throw on for my work commute, so that I don’t have to skip through crap to get to the good stuff. There isn’t a song on the album that I would say I dislike, now or even from the beginning.

Having given the album a few weeks to sink in, I’ve definitely found a few favorites on the album. “Lydia” is probably still number one for me, but that makes sense considering it was the first single from the album. “Bloodfeather” gives “Lydia” a run for its (her?) money, definitely a close second favorite if it doesn’t tie for first. The last track I’ll specifically pick out to listen to, but still a fantastic song, “Claudeland” rounds out my top three and finishes out the album at track ten.

Overall, I really like the blues rock and alternative feel of the album. No fancy electronic music additions, no treading the line between pop and rock, just a solid collection of songs. Instrumentals feel solid, with a healthy balance between the distorted jams of alternative and the soulful melodies of blues. Vocals on the album are a little rough around the edges, but that’s what I would expect of a blues rock fusion.

The lyrics pull no punches in being vulgar, but as appropriate for the subject matter, rather than dropping expletives just for the sake of attention or trying to seem edgy. Though I’m normally a fan of uncensored albums more than their edited counterparts anyway, I can genuinely say this wouldn’t be the same album without the language included. Pained yells of, “I can’t f*cking breathe, much less believe the truth,” resonate with the heartache of failed love.

I think what I like most about Mister Asylum as an album is the way Highly Suspect are able to build and reduce intensity in such a fluid and gradual way. In “Lydia,” from about 2:30 to 2:50, there’s a smooth transition from only whispered vocals, bringing in a soft and simple guitar riff, gradually building in with progressively louder drums, at which point the instrumentals cut out for a line and crash back in for a singular moment you can’t help but headbang with. This sort of transition is repeated a few times throughout the album, just as perfectly executed every time.

Mister Asylum is undoubtedly one of the best new rock albums I’ve heard in a very long time. It doesn’t try to fit a mainstream indie niche for popularity, it relies solely on a knockout track list of bluesy licks and lyrics that resonate with anyone who’s loved and lost. I sincerely hope that the success of this album means they’ll continue to make similar music, and I look forward to another stellar release in the next few years.

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