Album Review: Highnoon – “Semi Sweet”
Posted: by The Editor
In late summer 2019, Philadelphia songwriter Kennedy Freeman released Semi Sweet, their debut album onto Bandcamp. Despite Philly becoming a noted hub of so many New Important Indie Acts, it baffled me that Highnoon, Freeman’s project, didn’t immediately grab the spotlight. Though it was originally released through Cicada Choir, this past month it received a tape release by the Brooklyn & DC-based Oof Records. Not only does this give Highnoon a chance to physically release their lovely work, but it also gives music fans a second chance to find out about it.
While Freeman cites Alex G as a key influence, they never dip into his chaotic, lightly psychedelic sound. Freeman’s style of bedroom pop feels more in line with the early work of Jay Som or Field Medic. There’s a homespun quality and depth to these songs, they’re more emotive. The first track, after a delightful intro, the record’s clear hit. “Lens” is a fast, sweeping piece of jangle pop lightly imbued with jazz.
Freeman’s voice remains cool and collected and is truly something to marvel at. “Lens” gets followed up by a much softer cut, the unrequited love song “Not The One.” The lyrics describe Freeman wishing to know how the song’s subject feels about them and discusses the good times together. While they may end it by saying they “can’t believe you’re not with me / and you’re not the one,” that isn’t a sentiment they seem crushed by, but accepting of – it feels more special that way.
Since the album’s original release, Highnoon has become a four-piece band composed of Freeman,, Nathan Avila, Brendan Simpson, and Justin Roth. Roth, who performs as Soft Idiot, helped produce Semi Sweet. Freeman has teased that their new music will move closer to shoegaze, a sound they flirt with on Semi Sweet. The closest they ever come to shoegaze level fuzz and reverb is the excellent “Tongue in Cheek,” a slow jam bolstered by interesting drum parts and an infectious yet atypical melody. The song sketches an image of a girl who seems to be self-destructive out of sheer boredom – “she’s all dressed up with nowhere to be/ reading books on philosophy / she picks scabs but nobody sees/ she cuts too deep just to watch them bleed.” If their future holds more things like “Tongue in Cheek,” that future is one to look forward to.
While Freeman’s brilliance never falters, their music is at its most mesmerizing in the few moments built around warm acoustic guitar. These tracks are stripped down, flecked with little scapes and slides, Freeman’s lilt floating softly over them. There’s an intimacy to it, they sound so near as if they are just singing to you. “Middle Distance Runner” is one such track. It finds Freeman reflecting on isolation and the societal expectations they deal with in their everyday life. It has a soft swaying melody that lulls you into comfort.
The album’s closer “Bloom” is similarly sparse, but much more brief. Its main lyric – “everybody falls in love” – is a keen, simple way to sum up all the emotions on display throughout. These feelings are commonplace, experienced in some capacity by everyone, but still important.
Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great / Phenomenal
Eric Bennett | @seething_coast
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