Highly Suspect – ‘The Boy Who Died Wolf’ (2016)

After snagging a couple of Grammy nominations tied to their 2015 debut ‘Mister Asylum’, Highly Suspect likely approached the follow-up record with utmost confidence. ‘The Boy Who Died Wolf’ is a significant step-up in almost all areas, with the Cape Cod trio managing to create a more sonically dynamic and soulful offering, whilst expanding their genre-defying sound.

A strong start is determined by opener ‘My Name Is Human’, a fuzzed-out, arena-filling track that sees vocalist-guitarist Johnny Stevens chanting about self-identification. Already, this track is a large sonic improvement over anything from the debut, utilising multiple ambient effects to create a cool cosmic vibe.

The intensity is stepped up in ‘Look Alive, Stay Alive’ with its feisty, punk rock aesthetic. A dominant track, yet it’s actually one of the least interesting on the record. ‘Little One’ interweaves between soft string-picks and hard, distorted chord-strums, creating an enchanting dynamic and a definite album highlight. Like much of the album, it’s about heartbreak; Stevens recalls about the sabotage of a close relationship. The sombre themes continue with ‘For Billy’, the band’s tribute to a close friend who passed away. The glorified poppy chorus vocals make it perhaps the most accessible tune.

Grungy cut ‘Serotonia’ is driven along by the effortless fluidity of the main riff. It’s essentially a blues track; with its backing organs and “epic solo” (as stated in the official lyrics) generating some highly-memorable moments. ‘Postres’ steps up the tempo once again, basically being an homage to quintessential Queens of the Stone Age, with its vocal falsettos, stabbing pianos and highly infectious grooves.

The band include a cover of Real Life’s ‘Send Me an Angel’ and whilst creating an interesting aesthetic from subtle production and bass flange, it’s essentially a minute too long. ‘Viper Strike’ is set to divide fans with its controversial lyrical commentary on social issues such as racism and sexuality. Musically, it harbours a fresh lo-fi aesthetic, culminating in a Tom Morello-esque guitar solo.

One of the surprises of the record comes in the shape of ‘F.W.Y.T.’, a grimy, breakbeat cut similar in tone to artists such as Nine Inch Nails or Gorillaz. Stevens’ echoed vocals soar above a catchy drum & bass rhythm. It may seem out of place, however it demonstrates the bands’ willingness to adapt and diverge. Although, the biggest surprise is penultimate track ‘Chicago’, a heartfelt piano ballad that could easily pass for something in today’s music charts. Highly Suspect’s inclusion of softer pieces is commendable, however ‘Chicago’ ends up being a miss for straying away too far from the band’s core sound identity.

Closing cut and without a doubt the strongest, ‘Wolf’ is a seven-minute progressive monster. “It’s a good time for a timeless song” Stevens sings, his most honest lyric of the record. Subtle guitar noodlings transcend into a chilling bridge section with great drum patterns contrasting against Stevens’ ethereal vocals. Multiple stages of David Gilmour-esque soloing brings the track, and album, to a euphoric close.

Listening to Johnny Stevens tell us he doesn’t care about “what anyone thinks anymore” grows tiring throughout and leaves some lyrical inconsistencies. Yet, the band’s significant instrumental progression since the debut makes ‘The Boy Who Died Wolf’ a record worth multiple repeat listens.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Essential tracks: My Name Is Human // Little One // Serotonia // Wolf

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