Recently I went to listen to the San Francisco-based electro-pop group, Great Highway, at Neck of the Woods in the Inner Richmond district of San Francisco.
Great Highway’s music caught my attention some months ago with their original songs, unique sound and beautiful vocal harmonies. Their sound is most likened to The XX, The Stars, and The Naked & Famous. Their music is a refreshing antidote to more common pop music, backed by the keen musical intuition of the artists in the ensemble. Their interpretation of indie electro pop is a welcome addition to the scene.
This group is composed of five musicians; Jason Hunter (lead vocals, bass guitar), Sarah Morgan (lead vocals, synthesizer), Sean McAllister (lead guitar, backing vocals), Meredith Whelan (DJ table, percussion, backing vocals), and Makiko Harris (violin, backing vocals).
After showing my ID at the entrance, I was stamped and officially admitted onto the premises. While waiting for the show to start, I treated myself to a gin-cucumber cocktail. It was a Saturday night, and the bar was crowded with young people looking to have a good time.
They kicked off the show with their song “Little Black Book,” an upbeat dance tune with a colorful harmonic richness filled with Sarah’s lush and sophisticated voice.
The next song, “Venom In Me,” is a classic love song with a strong male presence and unique instrumentation. The harmony, carried by Jason and Sarah, reaches into the raw, heartbroken emotions of the protagonist.
“Winter Snow,” a new song, is also a story of heartbreak set against the bleak scenery of January, likening the changes of the heart to the changes of the seasons.
"Moving Target,” from their 2015 album "Industrial Love Scene," is a song that embodies the essence of what makes Great Highway strong: the moody, poetic lyrics are haunted by airy harmonies and backed by a deep synth bass. The song is a story unfolding, and Sarah’s voice brings to life the dynamic crumbling of a relationship.
Another one of Great Highway’s new songs, “The Chase,” is a unique spin on their usual brand of electropop - infused with 1920s jazz age influences, it opens with a crackle in the synth mimicking “putting on a record” in a jazz salon. It keeps the dark lyrics that are a hallmark of Great Highway’s work - and starts with an angry acclamation: “You don’t fool me pleading on your knees. You’re full of lies...” A violin solo played by Makiko, who is classically trained, adds a gypsy-like texture to the song, weaving furtively and snake-like in and out of the harmony.
They closed with the song “Singe,” a popular track from their most recent album “Industrial Love Scene.” It is a song filled with anger, sarcasm and dark humor, backed by equally aggressive instrumentation. The raw honesty of this piece is impossible to resist, reflecting the confusion and pain of a breakup.
Great Highway is currently working on recording new singles to be released in 2016, and also do production work to remix music from other local bands. They are based in San Francisco and write, arrange, and produce all their own music.
Their music is addictive and reaches into the primal essence of liberation that music can give us. I found myself dancing unconsciously to their music.
To learn more about Great Highway, visit their website: Great Highway | SF Electro Pop