Highland Kites – I’m Not Weak

Highland Kites – I’m Not Weak

Highland Kites are the duo of Marissa Lamar and Neil Briggs, joined here by guitarist Alex Edwards, and I’m Not Weak is their fourth album release, although at five tracks it more probably qualifies as a mini-album. It’s certainly enough to persuade the listener to peruse the Highland Kites back catalogue, however. Perhaps best or more easily described as dream-pop, the songs on I’m Not Weak are exercises in minimalistic instrumentation and some heartfelt vocal performances from songwriter Marissa Lamar; her voice one that can simultaneously recall both Kristin Hersh and Hope Sandoval, with the occasional nod towards Liz Fraser. There are bands that recreate the classic dream-pop sounds and others that derive and absorb influence from them. Highland Kites belong in the latter category.

Although opening track “Nothing To Say” isn’t quite their finest moment, it provides an introduction to Highland Kite’s sparsely-arranged sound, a piano/drums/guitar combination that gives Marissa Lamar’s vocal the space that her voice requires and as the track ends, her repetition of the three words of the song-title seems alternately questioning, poignant and accusing.  The songs on I’m Not Weak aren’t only about the words, however. Second track “Monster” is an altogether more developed piece, its guitar motif and speaker-shuddering drum backing as good a song intro as I’ve heard recently, and up to its synth-fuelled conclusion retains the idea that it could at any moment burst into a full-blown garage punk track, or a grandly performed opus in the manner of Jane’s Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins or similar.

“Temporary Life” seems lighthearted in comparison, a ballad with a folksy intonation and a soft-pop melody reminiscent of The Bangles or similar, and while pleasant enough it’s the next and closing tracks that have the added elements of tension and imagination that Highland Kites seem to want to keep partially hidden from us. “You’ll Never Know” and its double-tracked vocal, dramatic percussion and undulating synth arpeggios would make for a striking finale to their set, but it’s the final and title-track that has Highland Kites taking flight, alternately abrasive and ethereal and with Marissa Lamar’s voice conveying an emotive power as she repeats the song’s title, into its lengthy fade out.

There is a lot to appreciate about Highland Kites. Marissa Lamar’s talents are quite real and those of Neil Briggs and Alex Edwards combine to make for a listening experience that’s never predictable, combining alt.folk and urban electronica alongside Marissa Lamar’s piano and sometimes compelling tones to create songs that convey themes of love, loss and redemption without ever sliding into clichés. Five tracks doesn’t seem enough of I’m Not Weak.