Album Review: Highasakite “Camp Echo”

As titles for third albums go, one that references a detention centre at the notorious Guantanamo Bay is an interesting choice, whatever way you choose to look at it. Norway’s Highasakite have established confliction within their work straight away, as they move away from their universally adored Silent Treatment record, to Camp Echo which is a significantly darker, electronic detour.

“The theme of the album is war and terrorism,” singer Ingrid Helene Havik admitted in a recent interview. “Not the war at home, like on our last album, but what is going on in the world right now.” It’s all pretty heavy stuff for a band that became indie darlings in Australia thanks to their 2014 hit Since Last Wednesday, which subsequently found its way into Triple J’s Hottest 100 list. The spacious folk stylings have been traded in, like an old and overused car for a faster, more dangerous model. Yet despite all the perceived political leanings, it seems appearances can still be deceiving.

The record begins with My Name Is Liar as a scattering of electronics trickle away before Havik’s distinctive vocals take over. “I am at one with what I am” she repeats, as the beat morphs into a slow jam momentarily, before a shuffle ushers in a bouncy chorus. Samurai Sword then follows but it always feels like it is working to get to the chorus each time, while once it gets there it just trades in the usual fare of soaring vocals and cascading synths.

The first single to be released from the record, Someone Who’ll Get It begins in menacing fashion due to its paired down production. “Send somebody to me alive, send somebody to me tonight, send somebody who’s not likely to break, send a soldier,” Havik sings evocatively and somewhat ambiguously. The song practically palpitates with tension as the spiralling synths and the ominous clatter of drums warn you of what may be ahead. Then, the quick-fire force of gunshots cut through the mix and the tension all slips away as a huge chorus enters.

The anxiety soaked electro-pop of My Mind Is A Bad Neighbourhood comes next. The erratic pulse of the beat perfectly mirrors Havik’s lyrics as she declares, “either you are with us or you’re with the terrorists.” The battle cry then picks up momentum as the beat begins to become comfortable and settles into a propulsive groove. Meanwhile, on God Don’t Leave Me Now Havik battles with perceptions of not only the self but her faith too. Within the sparse arrangement she questions her place during a time where everything appears to be so utterly bleak and hopeless. “Creator of my mind, you crossed the line this time,” she sings in one of the best lines on the record. The downcast reflection showcasing the band in perfect sync as they mix their previous sound with a new found love for electronics.

“I think Camp Echo is very different: it’s more electronic and more up-tempo, and maybe more aggressive… I’ve been listening to a lot of The Prodigy, Fever Ray, The Knife and Die Antwoord,” Havik revealed recently.

The aggression can be found in the beats themselves but also within the lyrics that jump from one target to the next. On Golden Ticket Havik brutally dissects the world around her with the assertion that, “God if you’re watching, there are no more happy days.” All the destruction, tragedy and loss has worn Havik down and despite the upbeat music that surrounds it all, she seems to be having a hard time making sense of any of it. The euphoric push and pull of the 1980’s style synths and the club ready chorus contrasting against the despairing and toned down verses.

That technique is perhaps also indicative of the record as a whole. It appears nice on the outside, through the use of bright synths and pulsing rhythms, but something sinister festers the deeper you get inside of them. On Deep Sea Diver for example, it is easy to get lost within the warped synths as they weave around an upbeat drum pattern. The line, “I am not one to slash my wrists because you’re leaving,” may initially pass by without any real comprehension. But beyond the first listen that is when these lyrics become clearer.

“It’s not a political album in the sense that I want people to side with a specific party or mindset, but it has been central in my life. There are not many love songs on the album, because I haven’t been in that state of mind for a long time. Global warming and war have been my main concern,” Havik said. Album closer Chernobyl confronts this mentality with suitably dark overtures to bring an end to an abrasive, yet also colourful, album.

Check out Highasakite’s ‘Thee Albums’ feature here

Image: Culture Glaze