Sound — 8
If you like Royal Blood - give these guys a spin... right... the review...
Highly Suspect is a NYC based three piece, originally hailing from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Like many-a well established band, they spent several years cutting their teeth in their local scene playing covers gigs interspersed with original tunes. I will vouch for their incredibly tight, charismatic shows after seeing them at SXSW last year.
Following their move to the big smoke of Brooklyn, their laid back rock vibes were replaced with a darker, harder edged sound. Its this sound that you'll hear on this album and has seen them nominated for two Grammy's - Best Rock Song (for "Lydia") and Best Rock Album for their debut, "Mister Asylum."
Around UG, the Grammy's are rightfully derided - but I'd like to think of these 2 nominations as a glimmer of hope for genuine rock music, given the anonymity these guys have risen from on the back of relentless touring and dedicated songwriting.
At its core, "Mister Asylum" is a heavily guitar driven slab of blues tinged rock, which seamlessly translates the live power trio sound into an album format. The song structures and embellished guitar solos and vocals really give you the feeling of being in a seedy dive bar. This is reinforced with the production which is warm, rough around the edges and uses minimal overdubs. The rhythm section is heavily groove orientated and minimalistic, leaving space for the vocals and guitars to cut through. Which they do. Throughout.
Lyrics — 9
Singer Johnny Stevens' voice tends to draw immediate comparisons with Kings of Leon singer Caleb Followill, and even Chris Cornell. However, he avoids being pigeon holed with the hip-hop tinged rhymes and pentameter of his lyrics ("My muscles will contract, your bones will crack, it's just a fact cause I am here to win this fight"). Like the sound of the instruments, the vocals are rarely overdubbed and have a gritty live feel. Given this space to operate in, Stevens' dynamics extend from almost spoken word verses to pushing the limits of his vocal range in a Cobain esque manner (as on "Fuck Me Up"). This is definitely one of the most unique, appealing aspects of the album and personally gives me the urge to drive to the nearest bottle shop, grab a bottle of Jack Daniels and scream along in unison.
I remember seeing in the SXSW 2015 guide that "Highly Suspect write the kind of songs other bands are scared to write." From a lyrical point of view, there is some definite truth in this statement as the themes are deeply personal and laden with emotion ("Lydia," "Mom," "Vanity"). This combined with the passion in the vocals, elevates the more straight ahead bluesy tracks above your joe-average rock bands.
Overall Impression — 8
Aside from the KoL, Cornell comparisons - Royal Blood are the most obvious point of reference for Highly Suspect's debut. Its true, there are undeniable similarities - but Highly Suspect aren't afraid the break the mould with less Sabbath and more QOTSA inspired riffs and melodies (see "23"). The presence of the third band member also allows Johnny to really wail (on guitar or vocals) without the constant need to be holding down the basis of the song (aka Mike Kerr). This adds a lot more dynamic range to Highly Suspect's palette.
Overall, the "it sounds like a gig in my bedroom/stereo/car/mp3 player" combined with the impassioned vocals and lyrics really elevates this album to something special. For guitar aficionados, let's face it - you might the familiar box patterned pentatonic licks and riffs a little too familiar... and ultimately underwhelming. However, if you've picked up this album (or searched it on YouTube) expecting instrumental virtuosity - you've clearly been misled. What it really is, is a straight-forward yet impassioned bunch of songs by a trio of average, struggling to make ends meet guys, desperate to be heard. And surely all of us on the UG community can empathise with that?