In contemporary rock, it is quite normal to wait several years for a band to release new music, which makes it very surprising that the Brooklyn based trio of Highly Suspect have taken just under eighteen months to release the follow-up to their successful 2015 début, Mister Asylum. By today’s standards that is a lightning quick turnaround, and doubly so as it goes against every expectation that a band will somewhat struggle with a second record. The Boy Who Died Wolf sees Highly Suspect return in grand fashion, unabashedly shifting tones and styles while still delivering a coherent and compelling album.
Lead single, and opening track, My Name Is Human perfectly demonstrates the trio’s deftness at distilling disparate musical influences into a singular performance, with a stoner-rock intro that is reminiscent of Brant Bjork, pseudo-rapped vocals and rhythms of the verse having a touch of reggae/dub about them, and a solid alt-rock chorus. With its softer, ‘90s alt-rock, and lines such as “how long must I justify my pain through these songs”, it is difficult not to think of Weezer on Little One, and For Billy brings to mind an act like Kings of Leon. Postres, all fuzzy guitars, swagger and heavy strikes on the keyboard, could be an outtake from Queens of the Stone Age’s Rated R.
As many bands do – to a greater or lesser extent – Highly Suspect started out as a cover band – accounting for the down-tempo, brooding, rendition of Real Life’s Send Me An Angel – which probably goes a long way towards explaining why their music often brings other bands to mind. Yet despite this, the group always manages to maintain a distinctiveness that prevents them from sounding like a mere facsimile of others; they exist in the strange littoral between being a genre-band and being something almost new. Viper Strike sees the group use wry humour to go political with lines like “guns don’t kill people/white people kill black people/with guns” and “Jesus wasn’t even white on his whitest day”, and the song is certain to anger some of the complacently conservative elements of the public.
The dark, electro-pop and groove of F.W.Y.T. – fuck what you think – and the piano-ballad, Chicago, don’t seem to fit the album if taken in isolation, but in context they fit remarkably well, illustrating Highly Suspect’s skills as musicians and songwriters. But The Boy Who Died Wolf belongs to the ebb and flow of Wolf, which closes the album, and Serotonia, which blends grunge and ‘60s/’70s soft-rock to explore its theme of depression, utilising humour and earnestness in equal measure to craft a touching song that isn’t ham-fisted in dealing with its weighty subject matter. Highly Suspect have definitely delivered with The Boy Who Died Wolf, and produced a record they can be proud of.