Have you ever bought an album on sort of a whim and it just hit you about perfectly? In the case of this newest Him record, it was so much different than their previous release that I don't think I could have expected it, and yet despite the changes (and despite them moving in a direction of music that I don't normally listen to a lot), this album has stuck with me and found its way into my player a great deal since I first got it. Whereas previous releases by the group are a bit easier to lump into genres, Many In High Places Are Not Well is a genre-buster that pulls from enough different styles to make your head spin (in a good way).
Him albums have always had at least a partially revolving door in terms of collaborations with other musicians and the contributions they make, but it's easy to tell that this 7-track effort has the largest cast the group has assembled yet. Even with the huge variety in sound, though, it doesn't really make for that uneven of an album (except in maybe one case), and the just over 45 minutes of music flow by so nicely you'll have it on repeat.
One of the weaker tracks on the disc is the opener of "Elementals," and yet it's never unpleasant. If anything, it can mainly be called a little unfocused, but the somewhat jazzy track takes bits of Cuban music and and other styles for a warm 9-minute journey of rich percussion, vibrant horns, and loping bass and guitar. "Many In High Places" is only one of the several stunners on the album, and it's on this track that the group breaks loose with some of the most amazing instrument syncopation that I've heard in some time. Again, the percussion takes sort of an Afro-Cuban quality, while cheng (courtesy of Adam Pierce of Mice Parade intertwines with guitar and twangy bass and vocals.
The rest of the album takes you on just as much of a musical journey, as "Slow Slow Slow" dips into dub reggae while "Perspective From A Slow Spin" feels like completely narcotic jazz, all guitar drones and muted trumpets mixing like watercolors slowly permeating a piece of paper. The latter track is the only one that feels slightly out-of-place on the otherwise upbeat album, but it works as a nice breather if anything. Probably the best track on the entire disc is the nearly 9-minute epic of "The Way The Trees Are," a stunning track that builds from two-part vocals (by Kristin Anna Valtysdottir of Mum and Abdou M'Boup) and sparse percussion and guitars into a shape-shifting, polyrhythmic wonder of a track that keeps instrumentation fairly sparse but manages to do a great deal with it all. After several great albums, Many In High Places Are Not Well really feels like a breakout album for Him. It's one that proves they're not afraid to try new musical combinations, and seems like a celebration of great musicians on more levels than one.