High School

Tim Heidecker

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High School Review

by Mark Deming

It's often said that the people who were most successful in high school ultimately peak there and are frequently disappointed later in life, while the losers and the misfits go on to do great things. As a successful comedian, actor, writer, and musician, one could reasonably say Tim Heidecker has done well for himself, so it makes a certain sense that his 2022 album High School is full of bittersweet tales of awkwardness, uncertainty, and poor decisions. That said, High School isn't really about high school -- here, Heidecker is writing about his memories of teenage life, where even the most high-functioning are still confused by the world around them and working with a tragically low level of life experience. (High school, of course, is the place where hundreds of people who are struggling with the same anxieties in many different ways are forced to live them out en masse.) The biggest mistakes in life usually seem painfully obvious in retrospect, and High School is full of brilliantly cringe-worthy memories -- his cousin winning over the girl he fell for during a trip to Alaska, being a wise-ass conservative only to evolve into a progressive in college, thinking your best friend was just a burnout when you now realize he was struggling with an abusive family. This being the work of Tim Heidecker, parts of this are quite funny, but most of High School is more than a bit rueful, less a celebration of the glories of youth than scattered memories of parking lot fights neither party wanted to happen, indulging in low-level decadence while wondering about that war on the other side of the world, and the nagging question of whether things are ever going to get better. (And "Stupid Kid," in which a guy picks up a guitar for the first time after seeing Neil Young on TV, is a ray of welcome if tarnished nostalgia.) The bulk of High School was recorded in Mac DeMarco's home studio, with a handful of friends pitching in (including Kurt Vile, who lends backing vocals to "Sirens of Titan"), and once again Heidecker emulates vintage pop and soft rock structures with an uncanny accuracy and a melodic sense that's as smart and emotionally eloquent as his lyrics, while adding just enough 1990s grit to make this relevant to his era and his characters (some of whom might not be the artist). He's one of the few comedians who has delved into music and is every bit as good as writing tunes as making folks laugh. If you were ever 16 years old, chances are excellent that High School will ring true for you, leaving you to curse the lessons and bless the knowledge of those days. If it doesn't, I suppose that means you were one of the lucky ones. What are you doing these days?

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