High Plains today quietly released a follow-up to Cinderland, its brilliant debut and, hands down, one of last year’s best records. But, before you go all googly-eyed on me, take pause — this is not the group’s second LP proper but, instead, the digital release on Bandcamp of a tour-only cassette. And that’s an important distinction. Pilot Hill is a great little collection, true true, but it’s more of an addendum to Cinderland than it is a furthering of the group’s mission.

The six-song EP is filled, more or less, with tracks like ”Appaloosa,” its opener. There’s a lot of electronic texture, some swells in the soundbeds, and the occasional interjection of a weeping cello. But, while ”Appaloosa” toys with structure, layering its cello leads on top of each other in a dynamic progression, other tracks don’t move as much. It’s just a little more static than some of the duo’s best work.  In that, this has more in common with Loscil’s Suns, another between-LPs affair, than it does Cinderland — appropriate, given Vancouver-ite Scott Morgan’s involvement in both recordings.

Don’t completely write off this one, though. This is a release designed for subsequent listens. On my second trip through the EP, the morose piano closing ”Appaloosa” took on more dimension, as did the sweet cello on ”The Buttes.” And ”Exmoor” is a hell of a closer, even on first spin: moody, haunted and painterly, the primary weapon of choice almost sounds like a church organ, bellowing at night.

Then, the recording itself. Only on ”Boxelder,” the record’s fourth track, can you hear the real string resonations of Mark Bridges’ evocative cello. Maybe this is a personal beef but one of the things I loved so much about Cinderland was the way the strings were recorded and constructed in the sound bed. On Pilot Hill, the strings are sometimes coated in a kind of reverby glaze, which makes them sound a little too synthetic and studio-polished for my taste. A minor point.

All in all, an engaging — and surprising — little treat for those who didn’t catch High Plains last year during its too-brief tour in support of Cinderland. It might not be the sophomore effort but, for fans of the genre, it’s definitely worth the $6 (or more) you’ll shell out for it.

About the Author

Justin Vellucci

Justin Vellucci is a former staffer at Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines like American Songwriter and PopMatters, alt-weeklies such as Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper, and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish and Linoleum, and the Gannett publication Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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