Saturday, August 10th, 2019

Brittany Howard – Stay High

You’ll have to get past medium first…


Nortey Dowuona: Brittany Howard’s wobbly, keening voice is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that it gently inflates a thin, papery drum patter covered in guitar dubs and two cardboard bass grooves that lift out of the paper to support her.

Kylo Nocom: Conscious revivalist aesthetics tend to run a risk of sounding irritating in 2019 as musical conservatism grows increasingly passé in a climate that has more opportunities than ever to expand beyond well-explored palettes, and the idyllic laziness of “Stay High” never diverges from the path it sets out on. There’s something to be said, then, about how Howard is able to make the most saccharine arrangements sound absolutely vital. The trope of “love all night / work all day” is worked like magic in her hands: the incessant percussion and frantic pounding of the celesta embody a sort of physical labor from which Howard’s honeyed coos originate. I can guarantee this sounds like God’s work in the hot afternoon, brushing away a friend’s secondhand smoke from your face. Or maybe another one of those iPad commercials.

Alfred Soto: She lavishes “Stay High” with a moist gulp equal parts Maxwell and Al Green, which means it’s as much affect as necessity. How the audience responds to the strumming and celeste will depend on many things; I think of it as Bill Callahan with a soul jones. 

Oliver Maier: Brittany Howard’s vocals, firing at 100% as usual, are paired here with a distinctly lo-fi arrangement; even the otherworldly twinkle of the celesta is grounded by the audible thumping of mallets. It’s not exactly a groundbreaking concept to foreground a knockout vocal amidst intentionally humble trappings, and Howard’s melodies still sometimes feel like Soul Music 101, but there’s a real climax here that justifies the track. The celesta tires of embellishment and attempts to elbow its way to the front as Howard’s lead vocal bounces excitingly off her backup takes, giving me cause to overlook the uninspiring lyrics and just enjoy the feeling.

Ian Mathers: The room tone/reverb/whatever is nice, and I’m particularly fond of the bit in the middle where it sounds like someone randomly plinks at a xylophone for a few seconds. Some of the little vocal affectations aren’t really my thing, but the song as a whole matches enough of these hot, swampy nights we’ve been having in Canada recently that I think I can appreciate it a little more than I might have otherwise.

Tim de Reuse: It’d come off as insufferably saccharine if it didn’t have such a sense of weight to it, with the bass plodding along, the bells all clunky impact, and the vocals mercifully light on reverb. Past this charming sonic surface there’s not a whole lot going on — I guess that’s the point?

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Howard has a good voice, but it’s the processing and mixing here that brings it to another level. The instrumentation is just there to support her, purposefully steady and relentless. “Stay High” sounds like classic soul with bedroom twee flourishes; it helped make this week more bearable.

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