High School Sweetheart. A name that evokes innocence and infatuation. A label for the earliest and most vulnerable explorations of love. An ideal that is constantly sought and never really attained, circling back onto itself like a lost wanderer. A memory that haunts. An impassioned cry from a pained soul, wailing into a void just to hear the echo.
This is the source of the band’s magic: direct emotional force without any filtering, editing, or bowing to outmoded ideas of what music should be. They are anchored by a pair of powerhouse singer/songwriters with voices that curl and dance around each other, intertwining like flames racing up a tinder-dry tree. There is something elemental about their sound, something that carries both the organic heart of folk music and the electric charge of rock and roll. In the way that all great art resists analysis, it’s hard to define. But in any case, it is compelling and deeply emotive.
Their debut EP “There I Was” opens with the title track, an immediately we are invited into their interior world by taking a trip back in time. A tricky bit of minor guitar chording opens the tune, before the twin voices of Anne Moniz and Jessica Vanden Boomen emerge like wisps, wrapping little riffs around each other in an effective counterpoint. And then the rhythm section snaps us back to the present, where love is a thing to be praised and scoffed at in equal measure. The chorus feels like an incantation, an exorcism of a feeling that grew twisted and bent with the vagaries of time. It is love transformed into something closer to rage. There are these little rests that feel like punches or explosions, and when we reach the end of the song the actual explosions begin.
“More Than A” increases the rock energy with dueling vocals and a lurching verse before it sling-shots into a big singalong chorus. The layering of the guitars keeps the tune breathy and fresh, giving the voices lots of room to push and pull at each other. The track represents the real takeoff on the EP, with a rush like the bracing effect of a cold wind.
“Drum” takes a psychedelic detour, beginning with an ambiguous, unresolved arpeggio on a twelve string guitar and some jammy percussion fills, while the bass and the additional guitar play with textures. Again, there’s a lovely vocal counterpoint. The power in these voices is intense, as if they could cause spontaneous combustion if you stood too close to them. There’s a wordless bridge where things get bathed in reverb and chorus, and the whole thing seems to shimmer in front of you momentarily like heat waves on the highway.
“The Morning After” is a brilliantly scathing tune with a dark alt-rock vibe. After a minimalist intro it turns into an indictment of an unknown liar, and the band doesn’t hold back in their lust for revenge. It hits you in a place that is hard to define but well known to most people. We’ve all had to deal with personal transgression, or with being deceived by someone we love deeply, and this song embodies those conflicted emotions. Beneath the layered acoustic guitars, there’s little bit of crunch supplied by a low-tuned electric, giving the song a little more muscle and a vague sense of foreboding.
“Hiatus” takes us back in time again; this time with a spacey groove-rock number with a chiming autoharp, sparkling guitars, rhythmic breathing, and a stately 4/4 beat that demands head-bobbing. The vocal harmonies are so entwined as to seem supernatural. This song explores deep pain and the persistence of memory. There’s a nice little minor chord substitution in the end that pulls you down like a black hole. You feel that inevitable pull into a dark place, and you lose your way. And then you find some inexplicable trap door to free yourself and race back out into the light, with the melodies still ringing and your heart laid bare. And you know that you are free.
High School Sweetheart are:
Anne Moniz – Vocals, Guitar
Jessica Vanden Boomen – Vocals, Guitar, Autoharp
Jagger Benham – Bass
Nick Elie – Percussion
They are from London, Ontario. The band is presently taking an old-school approach with this release. Currently the EP “There I Was” can only be purchased at their shows or from the band directly, but I’m told there is an online release in the works. So if you live in the London area, go see them live. If you don’t, follow them on Facebook and wait for the EP’s digital release, which will be coming soon.