Review: High Plains – “Pilot Hill”

High Plains today quietly released a follow-up to Cinderland, its brilliant debut and, hands down, one of last year’s best records. But, before you go all googly-eyed on me, take pause – this is not the group’s second LP proper but, instead, the digital release on Bandcamp of a tour-only cassette. And that’s an important distinction. Pilot Hill is a great little collection, true true, but it’s more of an addendum to Cinderland than it is a furthering of the group’s mission.

The six-song EP is filled, more or less, with tracks like “Appaloosa,” its opener. There’s a lot of electronic texture, some swells in the soundbeds, and the occasional interjection of a weeping cello. But, while “Appaloosa” toys with structure, layering its cello leads on top of each other in a dynamic progression, other tracks don’t move as much. It’s just a little more static than some of the duo’s best work.  In that, this has more in common with Loscil’s Suns, another between-LPs affair, than it does Cinderland – appropriate, given Vancouver-ite Scott Morgan’s involvement in both recordings.

Don’t completely write off this one, though. This is a release designed for subsequent listens. On my second trip through the EP, the morose piano closing “Appaloosa” took on more dimension, as did the sweet cello on “The Buttes.” And “Exmoor” is a hell of a closer, even on first spin: moody, haunted and painterly, the primary weapon of choice almost sounds like a church organ, bellowing at night.

Then, the recording itself. Only on “Boxelder,” the record’s fourth track, can you hear the real string resonations of Mark Bridges’ evocative cello. Maybe this is a personal beef but one of the things I loved so much about Cinderland was the way the strings were recorded and constructed in the sound bed. On Pilot Hill, the strings are sometimes coated in a kind of reverby glaze, which makes them sound a little too synthetic and studio-polished for my taste. A minor point.

All in all, an engaging – and surprising – little treat for those who didn’t catch High Plains last year during its too-brief tour in support of Cinderland. It might not be the sophomore effort but, for fans of the genre, it’s definitely worth the $6 (or more) you’ll shell out for it. – Justin Vellucci, Popdose, June 13, 2018

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