On their first full-length, the Stinking Badger of Java introduced a sound that was already sui generis in the music (it can hardly be labeled only rock or pop) world, but In a Highland Eden proves, in retrospect, that their sound was not yet as fully formed as it had seemed. On their second long-player, the band further fleshes out its sonic palette and distances itself even more from any sense of musical conventionality with characteristic strangeness and their unique flair. It is music so fiercely original that it begs its own category. The album also represents a final shift to complete autonomy, a triumph of information-era technology and the resultant millennial, do it yourself determinism that it engenders. Recorded (again with the help of engineer and collaborator Jamie Durant) on Mount Hotham in May 1999 at the Trapdoor Ski Club in an impromptu recording studio, the album was funded by the band members themselves and released on their own Yippie Bean record label. With access to CD-burning technology, the band also pressed the CDs themselves and completed all the graphics. It certainly gives the impression of a band teeming with self-belief, and the music, indeed, gives off that very aura. It could have made, however, for a rougher, more anemic sound, but the exact opposite turns out to be true.
While the debut was frequently exceptional, it seems almost lo-fi and sketchy compared to this follow-up. Ironically, considering the nature of the recording, and despite the fact that cellist Susannah Provan has exited the group, In a Highland Eden contains the most robust music the band has ever made. The production is exuberantly full and loaded with detail. The songs are built out of multiple layers of sound and instrumentation, with the inclusion of sound samples, drum loops, and a smattering of turntablism. But for all the music's progression, the songwriting remains the most enduring and intriguing quality of the band. Their characteristic serpentine, exploratory melodies are still intact and metamorphose the songs from one bar to the next. Paul J. Narkiewicz and Brigitte Kelle's (formerly Corbett) ivy-like vocals climb and cling to the music, audibly warping it just slightly enough to notice. Highlights abound, from the suite-like "D.I.Y.," taut and agitated numbers like "Arrive" and "Pissing Diamonds," the intense and transcendently acoustic "All Quiet" and jazzy "Stocking Birds," to a spacious, mood-drive stunner such as "Enhancer." The album erases any sense of stylistic schizophrenia, exchanging it for a sonic cohesiveness that, nevertheless, has a high degree of weirdness per capita. The Stinking Badger of Java can never exactly be called conventional even when they are playing recognizable songs, but their music always sounds excitingly new, and that has never been more true than on this second album-length statement. [The album is available directly from the band via the Yippie Bean website at http://www.warehouse.net/yippibean/fetishes.htm.]