Following on from the positive critical reception and scores of advertisement and movie tie-ins that their debut album Open Season spawned, High Highs had some big shoes to fill with Cascades. Using the 2014 EP Ocean to City as its point of reference—even Glamorous Party, the only song not to appear on the album, matches its mood perfectly—Cascades ends up being exactly what you would expect.
On the surface, Cascades is a complete follow-up to Open Season. The same dreamy indie-pop sound exists here, occasionally moving into folk influenced territory. This time around, though, they aren’t afraid to use heavier beats or venture off into indie rock territory. Ocean to City stands out as the album’s most upbeat track, keeping their familiar style but giving it a rock twist with the guitar and faster beat, while Sun and the title track offer a more subtle take on the style. London, meanwhile, amplifies its folk roots with a near non-existent beat and simple guitar accompaniment, which surprisingly works in its favour—the later brass arrangement and synth flourishes are a nice touch, but don’t alter the theme of the song thanks to their short lifespan.
The remainder of the tracks fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, resulting in the album feeling largely like a beefed up version of Open Season: not featuring enough changes to classify as a major advancement but acting as a sizable improvement over their debut. The general atmosphere is much more engaging, and makes for a generally more enjoyable package; its glaring fault lies in the fact that it lacks any real hooking elements in any of its tracks, barring Ocean to City. Your enjoyment of the album will hinge on how much you enjoy their dreamy brand of indie-pop, because despite the improvements, there isn’t much to warrant repeated listening.
Regardless, Cascades is still an improvement. It falls short of being an amazing album, but its individual songs feature enough appeal to listen to at least once; whether that one listen extends to more afterwards is the main question the album raises, and relies solely on personal taste: Fans of dream pop will surely find something to enjoy about Cascades, though, even if they don’t find any lasting appeal within it.