My last few album reviews have been lengthy and in-depth, but I'll try to keep this one a bit lighter. Tall Heights is a duo comprised of guitarist Tim Harrington and cellist Paul Wright. Both of these musicians sing, and their dual vocal harmonies, coupled with minimalist folk instrumentals, form the basis of their musical style. Just last month, the band released their sophomore album, Neptune


First things first: Longtime fans of Tall Heights will be pleased to note that the band's core sound has not been dramatically altered after signing to a major label (Sony Masterworks). Instead, the band has clearly taken advantage of the opportunities that their newfound benefactors have afforded them. This means that they sound tighter, have explored new musical frontiers, and added a depth to their sound that wasn't present prior to this album. Check out one of their older songs, "To Be Young", for a comparison: 

 

 

The biggest change in sound from their previous efforts comes by way of adding a full-time percussionist to the mix. Previously, Harrington and Wright would switch off rhythm duties with each other, with the rhythm instrument also providing the tempo that traditional percussion would normally afford. It was a neat workaround for the former two-piece act, and it was especially cool seeing them dovetail in and out, switching roles in mid-song. There are no stripped down songs on this album, which suggests that Tall Heights has no interest in going back to two instrument minimalism. 
 
The good news is that this change has freed up the guitar and cello to soar into many different directions on Neptune. The percussion also adds a snappy pop to some songs, like "River Wider", which is not an unwelcome detour for this band's sound. Since adding one extra instrument, Harrington and Wright seem to have thought "eh, screw it", and opened the floodgates. You can hear a string accompaniment in the background of a few songs, such as the excellent "Spirit Cold". They even play around with synths, as exemplified in "Infrared". The overall result of all this added instrumentation is a huge depth to the variety of emotions that the songs on this album evoke. The aforementioned tracks with strings feel grand and epic, while the synthier songs feel moody. Of course, every instrument is lovingly balanced and mixed. I can't really put a good finger on it, but it feels like their recording space is bigger compared to their previous work. You can hear the percussion resonate and the strings echo in the tracks, like they're performing in a concert hall and not someone's living room. This is most apparent on the more atmospheric tracks, like "Horse to Water", my personal favorite on the album. 
 
When all is said and done, I'm really feeling the direction that Tall Heights is headed in. They've shown that they won't lose their way after signing a big record deal and aren't afraid to take advantage of their newly increased resources. I'm a little curious of how they're going to adapt their expanded instrumentation for their live shows, but I have no doubt that they'll make it work. Tall Heights' sound is tight; both intimate and grand at the same time, and their singing voices are as gorgeous as ever. I can't recommend Neptune enough and definitely listen to this one on a cold, rainy morning. 
 


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