The High Strung
Get the Guests
Park the Van
o fault Get the Guests for over-ambition is cheating. Doing things big has always kind of been the goal for the Detroit-based High Strung, even though the band has survived almost solely on word of mouth. They’ve existed as the little indie band that could through endless tours (300 dates a year), big name producers (usually just Jim Diamond), label shuffling, and records that operate as illusions of the second coming of the first British Invasion (Beatles, Kinks, Hollies, and Zombies included); big ideas on tiny budgets. But a road-weary, nose-to-the grindstone work ethic does not a good band make unless that experience is siphoned and creatively funneled back into the music, right?
Of the three albums the High Strung have released in their short tenure, this is the least of them, if only for a lack of self-editing and what, in spots, sounds like a very tired band. Where their debut, 2001’s These Are Good Times relied on freewheeling wanderlust to fuel the group’s bookish, but always gritty, power-pop, Get the Guests is desperate and deliberate, as if they’ve crammed every hook they can conjure into the tightest amount of space possible. The effortless harmonies and playful sing-a-longs are still in place, “Raise the Bar” is both bubblegum melody and deftly played garage rock and the regal brass that carries “What a Meddler” adds a new dimension to their Sloan by-way-of Greenpoint demeanor, but after Get the Guests dizzying first third (would’ve made a lovely EP) the album stumbles. The homogenous glee feels force-fed, a mass of tuneful quips and one-liners with no direction.
Josh Malerman has always been a man of many words, too literate for his own good. He’s not exactly Colin Meloy, spouting creamy nautical prose (thank god for that). He’s more the geek at the bar with an intriguing anecdote of bullshit for every situation. It’s telling that Malerman is an unpublished author with scads of horror manuscripts on the shelf. Get the Guests is, unsurprisingly, a fragmented album, much like Malerman’s stream-of-consciousness thoughts (and most likely his writings)—a pastiche of Raymond Carver-esque characters participating in their own separate vignettes, with no forethought to cohesion.
“The Curator,” one of the album’s more awkward inclusions, is Malerman at his most revealing. The song concerns a museum night watchman who replaces priceless masterpieces with his own after the galleries have cleared out—a story that seems to neatly mirror High Strung’s starving artist routine: Malerman christens his work with an air of importance before the public has had a chance to judge. With These Are Good Times and Moxie Bravo he succeeded. Get the Guests finds the band singing to a crowd of few. There’s still a need for the High Strung’s sugar-shock pop, and in the right environment Get the Guests resonates with genuine exhuberance. It’s just a shame that the band have seemingly found a ceiling in what they thought was a limitless rock and roll fantasy.