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Published: 2012/05/02
by Brian Robbins

High On Stress
Living Is A Dying Art


Comparing High On Stress to The Replacements may be the lazy man’s way out of describing their sound, but sweet baby Jesus … after weeks of revisiting their Living Is A Dying Art album, I can do no better than that. (And repeated listenings are not a problem, boys and girls.)

I’m sorry, Deer Tick: you pay great homage to Paul Westerberg and the ‘Mats – and have the whether-or-not-we-give-a-fuck-is-immaterial-‘cause-we’re-gonna-act-like-we-don’t thing nailed, but when it comes to the vibe and sound of the Slim Dunlap-era Replacements, High On Stress gets the job done. And unlike what you might expect, they do it without ever coming off as a wanna-be or sound-alike tribute band.

(Speaking of Slim Dunlap, the man has long been one of those guitar heroes who’s never gotten his due. A master of lead-as-rhythm/rhythm-as-lead guitar, Dunlap has flown quietly under the radar since The Replacements’ break-up in 1991. Slim suffered a stroke back in February and has a long road ahead of him. Want to help an unsung guitar hero and his family? Click here and lend a hand if you can.

The deal is sealed right off the bat with “Bite Your Tongue” – all crash-and-thump guitars/bass/drums with smart lyrics, and a chorus that sets the hook in your ear first time through. And if the character’s heartache in Paul Westerberg’s “Nobody” had lead to being pissed rather than melancholy, he would’ve sung “Lost My Invitation”. Try to imagine a parallel ‘Mats universe somewhere between the Don’t Tell A Soul (with the gloss scraped off) and All Shook Down albums and you’re getting close to where Living Is A Dying Art dwells.

HOS are all killer players, although not a one of them is a grandstander: they simply serve the song. Listen to Mark Devaraj’s drums on “Even Time Won’t Tell”: he deserves some sort of “Unexpected Pleasure” award for his refusal to settle into the easy way out while never sacrificing the groove of the tune. Or dig Jim Soule’s bass on “Up Your Sleeve” – a continuous shot of ether into the blower of the beast. While Nick Leet and Chad Wheeling are grinding out thick slaps of six-string, it’s Soule who provides the savage chug beneath it all. And Leet (who leads the way vocally) and Wheeling dole out the guitar in all manner, shapes, and forms: punkchurn (“Here Is Your Smoking Gun”), chunky rock ‘n’ roll with acoustic guitar underpinnings (“Lead Follow Roll” and “Coattail Rider”), twang city (“Dakota Square”), and tasteful/ballsy weavings (“These Days Are Gone”). The talented Caitlin Cary joins the HOS lads on “Head”, lending just-right dollops of yank-yer-heartstrings fiddle and background vocals. And even if the album-closing “All Along The Water Tower” wasn’t as cool of a song as it is (big pictures while the credits roll), it would still deserve props for its title.

Three albums into it, High On Stress has achieved something that some bands never do: they’ve created a sound that will remind you of past greatness while never trying to be anything except themselves. If all the mentions of The Replacements send you digging into your old albums, that’s fine – but High On Stress is happening right now.

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