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Album Review: Highly Suspect – The Boy Who Died Wolf

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Just over a year since Highly Suspect’s 2015 offering, Mister Asylum, they’re back with their latest: The Boy Who Died Wolf. Available now, this album is stronger, louder, and a definite leap beyond its predecessor.

The Brooklyn-based hard rock trio is made up of Johnny Stevens (guitar/vocals), Ryan Meyer (drums), and Richard Meyer(bass). Originally from Cape Cod, MA, Highly Suspect formed in 2009, busting their tails by playing in bars as a cover band. Eventually they relocated to Brooklyn to pursue their passion of writing music. It was there that they recorded The Worst Humans EP (2012) with Joel Hamilton (Elvis Costello, The Black Keys, Wu-Tang Clan), but it was the full-length debut album Mister Asylum (2015) that got the ball rolling for the band. The leading single “Lydia” became a smash hit across the board, peaking at number 4 on the US Mainstream Rock chart and at number 24 on the US Alternative Songs chart. “Bloodfeather” also received high praises, peaking at number 5 and number 37 respectively on the same charts. Mister Asylum was also Grammy-nominated in 2015 for Best Rock Album and “Lydia” for Best Rock Song.

Highly Suspect brings to the rock genre overwhelming beauty in simplicity. The trio has perfected the bluesy rock and roll sound, greatly aided by Stevens’ raspy vocals. By implementing a “less is more” technique, Stevens and the Meyer twins deliver a full sound by expertly using periods of silence that make the band sound larger by contrast.

Right off the bat, I’m submerged in all of Highly Suspect’s glory with “My Name Is Human.” The second single from the album is a truly powerful number that evokes the kind of inner strength it takes to realize what you are. To be human is to be flawed, surely, but there’s divinity there. Stevens confidently affirms this as he sings “hello, my name is human, and I came down from the stars” as the rich bass melody echoes that cosmic trajectory.

The vocals take a different turn in “Look Alive, Stay Alive,” purposefully slurred in a way that seems to touch on the band’s roots of playing in bars. Musically, the song is very punk during the chorus where Ryan’s drum licks shine. During the verses, Richard’s technical bass riffs remind me of Red Hot Chili Peppers. Overall, I find the track fun, with lyrics reminiscent bar conversations and witty one-line zingers like “you think you’re better than everyone… Well, you’re fucking not.”

The quiet strumming of Stevens’ guitar opens the regret-soaked “Little One.” He truly has a way with words, and this Nirvana-style third single from the album capitalizes on that with lyrics like “I’m cornered in fire so break out the secrets.” Highly Suspect has taken us down the break-up road before with songs like “Lydia” and “Lost.” However, the band focuses more intently on the pain that follows with questions like “how long must I justify my pain through these songs?”

“For Billy” is a touching tribute for the band’s longtime friend Billy Gile, who lost his life earlier this year to depression. Parts of this track come across as dark, but overall the feeling is bittersweet and hopeful with promises to see Gile on the other side, get stoned and go for another motorcycle ride.

Fans are already very familiar with the album’s first single, “Serotonia.” For those that are new to Highly Suspect, let this song take you away with dreams of California living. I often feel that this is a modern song painted in vintage hues, especially in the way that the whole band resembles The Wall-era Pink Floyd during the solo. When this single was released in February, I made my 65-year-old mother listen to it, who traditionally dislikes most of what I listen to. Recently, we listened to it again, and she was also reminded of early hard rock, before the heavy metal genres started emerging, and even felt a Jim Morrison vibe. Well done, guys. You’ve gained a new fan in an unexpected place.

There’s a Queens of the Stone Age circa Lullabies to Paralyze ambience in the song “Postres,” with lyrics I can’t help but smile at. Even under the current social climate, Highly Suspect chooses to focus on the positives instead of the negatives with the simple message of “life is incredible when the sun is in your eyes.”

I love well-done covers of classic songs, and Highly Suspect’s version of Real Life’s “Send Me An Angel” fits the bill fantastically. While the melody retains much of its originality, the raspy vocals breathe new life into this track. It’s a slow number that speaks of a man who is just so tired of his unluckiness in love, suiting the band’s modus operandi of heartbreak and weariness.

Last week following the US election, Highly Suspect leaked the politically charged “Viper Strike” on Facebook to mixed reviews. In this intense punk track Stevens simply speaks the verses, touching on the incredibly sensitive topics of racism and homophobia. He makes his stance on these issues crystal clear, with the chorus “We’re all equal, except for you, cause you’re an asshole with an ugly point of view.” The leak came with a simple message from the band: “Remember to love each other in this time.”

“FWYT” is a clear departure from the rest of the album with the early hip-hop drum beats and bass lines that fill nearly every space of this song. The vocals are nearly indistinguishable behind the clear guitar, but by listening closely, I was able to understand that the title’s acronym is “Fuck What You Think.” Indeed, this track challenges me to let go of pre-conceived notions as Highly Suspect changes things up yet again by adding in various background sounds and bongos to lend this number a tribal feel.

“FWYT” feels like a needed interlude to reset my ears for the tender “Chicago.” The simple piano ballad is a stand-out track on The Boy Who Died Wolf. This song offers a quiet opportunity for reflection on fond memories of the one who got away. I’m consistently drawn back to the aching regret that opened this song however, with the question “was it love or my fantasy?”

The fourth and final single “Wolf” was released on November 11th, and it really is “a good time for a timeless song.” I am over the moon with this track’s placement. In a way, this quiet song brings the album to a full conclusion, with musings over various aspects of life, introspection, unrequited love, and the need to move on. From the 4:22 mark through to the end, Highly Suspect showcases the bluesy melodies that initially drew me to them in an epic solo. Stevens is joined by The London Souls’ guitarist Tash Neal, and the two instruments become intertwined, nearly impossible to pick apart from one another before cutting off abruptly at 6:39. Those two minutes go back to that early hard rock feel for me, resembling rock legends David Gilmour and Jimi Hendrix.

From the transcendental “My Name Is Human” to the psychedelic “Wolf,” The Boy Who Died Wolf is a fantastic listening journey. I’m beyond excited to have this album on repeat, and I eagerly (read: impatiently) look forward to the trio’s future. I recommend Highly Suspect to everyone I can, and I’m not about to stop now. Head over to iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon to grab The Boy Who Died Wolf for yourself and check out all that Spotify has to offer on this first-rate band.

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Compositions - 10
Breaking Ground - 10
Engagement - 10
Lyrical Voice - 10
Production - 10

10

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About Alice Colson

A music lover of many genres, I was raised on classic rock gods and goddesses. My main tastes tend to gravitate toward the heavy metal and punk genres and sub-genres as a result of my upbringing, with the occasional wandering into the EDM scene. I am also a lover of cats, monster flicks, anthropology, electronics, coffee, and adventure role-playing games.

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  • Regan Donaldson

    Happy to say this was my first album purchase of the year. Yep, definitely a good year for these guys.

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