When a band has a highly identifiable and unique sound and the bandmembers decide to change it, they’d better make damn sure the new one is just as interesting as the one they left behind. Along with moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the release of their self-titled 2008 record, the duo of Mary Pearson and Rob Barber made some pretty drastic alterations to their sound. Their early recordings were built around hypnotic loops made from percussion instruments, found sound, and household items that were warped into non-recognizable sounds. It made for a childlike and quite often magical sound that was made even better by Pearson’s guileless vocals. High Places vs. Mankind is still built on loops and odd sounds, but the textures are sparser and the instruments are more traditional-sounding. The drums usually sound like drums, there are keyboards, and most importantly, they introduce guitars into the mix -- which isn’t the worst thing in the world, granted, but it would have been nice if the guitars actually added something interesting to the album instead of just making the duo more of a traditional indie rock experience. When you add in Pearson’s much more up-front and dramatic vocals (she sounds less like a kid on the schoolyard and more like a professional singer in a band), the feeling of disappointment grows stronger. It’s unfair to ask a band not to evolve and grow, but if that's done in a way that destroys all the factors that made it special in the first place, there’s a problem. Not all of High Places vs. Mankind is a letdown; "Constant Winter" builds up a nice head of steam and "When It Comes" has a pretty melody and a good groove, but enough of it comes off as too slick or too filler-y that it’s easy to write the band off as a loss. It’s kind of funny, though: if you heard Mankind without hearing their other work, you might think it was a decent record with a couple of memorable songs -- kind of generic and bland, but not awful. It’s only a disaster if you were charmed by High Places' original sound and left cold by their new approach.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra