It’s only been a couple days since HIGHLIFE made its “free MP3” debut, and the band has already made a significant impact on the blogosphere. By “significant,” I mean that a good number of indie relevant bloggers have had their say on HIGHLIFE’s first ‘single’ “F KENYA RIP” (the band even blogged about getting blogged). Sometimes I pass up the opportunity to blog about a song that’s already made the rounds, but I feel the need to throw my 2 cents in the pond on this one; HIGHLIFE is a band to keep your eyes on.
Sleepy Doug Shaw — the man behind HIGHLIFE — ‘accidentally’ relocated from the UK to NYC at the age of 20, after spontaneously not returning home at the end of a family vacation. Sleepy Doug spent the next 6 years in NYC, where he “quickly” found his way into the city’s avante-noise-pop scene, became friends with Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, Black Dice, and Orthrelmand, and became a permanent member of White Magic (if you’re unfamiliar, White Magic’s album Dat Rosa Mel Apibus is a good place to start). In an interview with Pinglewood.com Sleepy Doug says:
“I was not aware of these bands prior to arriving in New York, and was greatly inspired by the new sounds they were making. I was looking for a way to bring the old folk and blues and spiritual music i loved, back through me, without feeling like a revivalist – and it was obvious that the way to do this was to play freely. I let go of chords and structures that i was stuck in and took a more shamanistic approach. I would try to attain a trance like state through playing guitar and singing, which soon became easy to transcend. And the path since then has been wider open. Life is ever beginning. HIGHLIFE!”
I’m not sure how long Doug’s been working on HIGHLIFE — I suppose you might say “his whole life,” if you want to get snarky/spiritual about it — but at the end of June, 2009 HIGHLIFE is set to release its debut 12″ EP, limited (of course) to 1000 copies. The EP will feature the 4 excellent songs that are currently streaming on HIGHLIFE’s MySpace, will be released on Sleepy Doug’s own New High Records, and will probably sell out quickly.
Also worth noting, member’s of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and Gang Gang Dance are contributing to HIGHLIFE.
“F KENYA RIP” is the band’s immediately catchy, not-surprising choice for first “free MP3,” and it’s a brilliant tune. It sounds like… the African inspired indie-pop-sensibilities of Vampire Weekend meet the intricately arranged, delightfully textured loops and samples of Animal Collective (or, more simply put, HIGHLIFE has his MP3 tagged as “World” music). Description sound too good to be true? It kind of is. The only thing that might make this music better is if it were a little less accessible; but only time will tell if HIGHLIFE’s music can stand the test of time. For now, it’s enjoyable as F.
FYI, the phrase that’s repeated in “F KENYA RIP” is “Madame Zehae Ala”. If my mediocre research is correct, “Madame Zehae Ala” means “Just As I Am,” and is a song title from the F. Kenya Guitar Band that appears on the compilation Ghana Electric Highlife: Sessions From The Bokoor Studios. I would imagine that ‘highlife’ African music — which is a genre of African dance music popularized in the 60s/70s and originated in Gana — has been a HUGE influence on Sleepy Doug Shaw, or at least on HIGHLIFE. I wonder if the “RIP” in “F KENYA RIP” means the F. Kenya Guitar Band has broken up, or a member (or members) have passed away?
If you have anything to add to my brief research feel free to contribute, I’d love to learn/share more. Also, there’s more than a few worthwhile (and available) highlife-ish compilations out there if you’d like to hear more.