Mattias Hellberg

High in the Lowlands

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Swedish compulsive band-starter Mattias Hellberg toiled in the throes of several different kinds of bands since coming onto the scene in his adolescent years. Working nonstop with garage rock hard-livers like the Hellacopters and Nymphet Noodlers before transitioning toward rootsy psychedelia with projects like Hederos & Hellberg and the White Moose, Hellberg has been in the thick of his own musical world for years. High in the Lowlands, issued as a proper solo album, follows the same cabin-in-the-woods soul-searching psych folk of his work with the White Moose. Much like the freak folkers of the mid-2000s Arthur Magazine scene (Devendra Banhart, MV & EE, Entrance, etc.) embraced the soft psychedelia and hidden darkness of Laurel Canyon folk groovers like David Crosby, Skip Spence, and Neil Young, Hellberg draws on the same druggy desolation on High in the Lowlands. The album's 11 tracks all occupy more or less the same low-lit mood, each song drifting hazily into the next. Opening track "Black Cloud Man," with its ominous harmonica, nervy chords, and huge harmonies on the chorus, sounds like Hellberg went through a serious phase of listening to Neil Young's Tonight's the Night on repeat. Much of the album's first half stays in this mode, broken up by the creepy Tom Waits-ian circus accordion of "Like a Sun" before fading back into droney folk on "Strange Winds." High in the Lowlands' gorgeous production and heartfelt performances are highlights, though not many of the songs stand out on their own. More than a collection of memorable hits, the album exists atmospherically, the soundtrack for finding closure or coming to terms with loss. The meanings of the songs and even Hellberg's intentions with a lot of the tracks are nebulous at best. The thing that is abundantly clear is that the wolves are at the door for the entirety of High in the Lowlands, and tension and despair struggle with each other on every track. By the end of the journey, the whole album feels like a gusty, heavy sigh from someone at the end of his rope but not too far from the dawn.

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