This album didn’t receive too much press, nor did the band, but this is definitely an ex-Unicorns side project worth noticing. Human Highway consists of former Unicorn–Islands front man Nick Thorburn and singer-songwriter Jim Guthrie–it’s about as Canadian as you can get.
Opening track, “The Sound,” will probably make a cut for many singles of the year lists, and probably mine. It’s got sort of an island feel to it–by that I am referencing the volcanic ocean formations rather than Thorburn’s band, though that is there too. Guthrie closely resembles Patrick Wolf here, but the overall feel pushes you for a little beach time. It’s probably the most upbeat song on the album.
From here they go on to pursue their original intentions in creating this record, that of chasing after the harmonies of 50s/60s R&B groups. They can achieve this fairly easily considering Thorburn’s abilities to tie harmonies in twisted knots, and they do this throughout the record. In fact, this really is the record for the most part. It’s a stripped down affair full of matching harmonies with accompanying guitars and minimalist percussion.
Those of you searching for the awkward catchiness of the Unicorns and Islandswill probably have a momentary lapse of judgment when you listen to this album. Immediately, it won’t be accessible to your ears, but I beg you to go on for a few more listens. This album resembles all those bands and projects you love from Thorburn, but in a more traditional singer/songwriter vein. It’s like an acoustic Islands album, which probably garners it more longevity than Arm’s Way–the album by the aforementioned band that came out this year.
You’ll find all the great harmonies you’ve come to love, and you will find Thorburn’s vocal styling all over the place–he frequently goes from casual crooner to that soft whisper we’ve come to know so well in his productive career. I don’t want to take away from Guthrie’s presence here either–his heavier voice, though gentle, definitely adds a sublime contrast to the higher pitched Nick T. And of course, you will find that the lyrics, though a bit more personal, still have that hint of absurdity.
At the end of the day you will come to find that this album is hard to put away. Each song continuously unfolds for me, turning me into fans of different songs throughout the day, only coming back to revisit the album in its entirety. I might be on an island all by myself listening to this, but damned if I don’t enjoy every instant.