High Vis Refine Their Vision on the Boundless 'Blending'

High Vis Refine Their Vision on the Boundless 'Blending'
High Vis pull off an astounding trick on their sophomore album Blending: they create an alternate reality where shoegaze and brit-pop were never arrayed at opposite polarities of the musical spectrum from punk and hardcore, and imagine what would happen if those influences came together to create something gleaming, harrowing and open-hearted.

Emerging from the same vibrant London-based hardcore punk community that produced crossover bands like Chubby and the Gang, the Chisel and Higher Power, High Vis have refined the sounds they first flirted with on their 2019 debut No Sense No Feeling, shedding much of the aggression of their early material to allow room for warm, welcoming pop songcraft.

"Talk for Hours," the album's lead single and opening track, is maybe most emblematic of this transition. Clipped feedback squall gives way to a simple jangle riff that immediately recalls Ride's "Vapour Trail"; but where Ride's guitars were gauzy and diffuse, conjuring an endless pastel horizon, here they're clear-eyed and slightly serrated. The band coasts on this riff for nearly all of the song's five-minute runtime, only breaking into an arcing sky-shot distorted vamp when frontman Graham Sayle winds down the song's near-perfect chorus. "Talk for hours / And I hardly know ya / But I, I'm listening," Sayle belts, harnessing an instantly memorable brit-pop-inflected bellow straight out of '95, sounding at once weary and hopeful for understanding. And while the chorus is broad and gregarious, the writing on the verses is intimate and focused, speaking of friends gone too soon, being fed up with the UK carceral system and reminiscing about the heyday of British graffiti artist Daniel "Tox" Halpin.

The group leans even further into unlikely mid-90s U.K. ephemera on "Fever Dream," which sounds like a Cocteau Twins riff played over the Charlatans' "The Only One I Know," its iconic Madchester "baggy" beat stripped of jaunty organ but not of exuberant wah-wah guitar, repurposed to shoulder Sayle's plainspoken tale of chemically-enhanced escapism.

The vocalist's broad stylistic range on Blending is perhaps the album's greatest asset. On "1501," the aforementioned Gallagher-isms share space with verses of impassioned Oi! punk snarl, decrying the destitution of the working class families of Merseyside, the county where Sayle was born. Meanwhile, dreamy closer "Shame" sees the singer adopting a disarmingly tender vocal delivery to sing about the ways in which we obfuscate parts of ourselves as a means of self-preservation, bringing the band firmly into indie dream-pop territory for the first time. Sayle's delivery remains remarkably confident in all these modes, and his natural charisma helps anchor the music around him.

All across Blending, High Vis consistently ground their artier impulses in British blue-collar rock pathos. Shimmering post-punk and shoegaze textures are used sparingly and effectively, never sacrificing immediacy for atmosphere. Even more impressive: all of these influences come together seamlessly. They feel lovingly worn, lived-in. Sayle and co. sound like they've fully absorbed the music they're tastefully quoting — letting it seep into their bones to become part of their identity — and the songs they make together are familiar but never feel like pastiche. And while hardcore bands have been mining from shoegaze and post-punk for decades, it's rarely, if ever, felt as earned or as fresh as it does on Blending. High Vis have tapped into something special here — may it lead to broadened horizons for hardcore and punk, and to many new converts being welcomed into the fold. (Dais Records)