All Time High is:
Adrian Makins: Guitar, Vox
Steb Brown: Bass
Sam Williams: Guitar
Matt Vandenberghe: Drums
Van Conner sings backup vox on Rule of Thirds, Land of the Free and No Mind.
Jack Endino sings backup vox on Twistin' the Knife Away, New Urge and Already Gone.
Recorded and Mixed by Jack Endino at Soundhouse in Seattle, WA.
Mastered by Chris Gooseman at Baseline Audio in Ann Arbor, MI.
All Songs written and performed by All Time High.
ALL TIME HIGH come from Seattle and despite the band name, their music is less psychedelic than expected. But that doesn't matter. Because what makes this album so enjoyable is that the music is a kind of 1977's punk rock, but also has a pop-sensibility with infectious hooks and cool riffs. In this sense, you kind of get the best of both worlds - the youthful and snotty spirit of bands such as later Dead Boys or The Vibrators, but also the melody and harmony of The Beatles. In addition, a bit of 70's hardrock and 60's psych-tinged garage rock comes into play as well. According to this sonic brew, ALL TIME HIGH have a lot in common with the aesthetics of Seattle rock in the late 80's/early 90's, not forgetting that they come from there too. From this viewpoint, one could argue that 'Friends In High Places' is a kind of retrospective work of this musical period in time, with particular attention to Nirvana's post-'Bleach' phase. Well, there's definitely some truth in it, but I can say that it is a very authentic and passionate work.
One can immediately feel that the music comes from heart and each one of the included twelve tracks also shows the closeness to the hometown of ALL TIME HIGH. So it's no surprise that this album has been recorded and mixed by Jack Endino because he knows how to handle this type of music. Furthermore he sings backup vocals on three tunes as well as Van Conner (Valis, Screaming Trees), who is no stranger to ALL TIME HIGH. Besides this there is a parallel to Valis, which could be due to the fact that ALL TIME HIGH vocalist/guitarist Adrian Makins was a former member of Valis. Based on the principle "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts", ALL TIME HIGH focuses in creating an own musical personality, despite all obvious influences. And they manage to do that without any problems. One reason for this are their qualities as experienced songwriter, but they also know how to structure their tunes. As a bonus, 'Friends In High Places' exudes the the vibe of a cloudy spring day and on the basis of that, I must say that the cover artwork was the perfect choice for their music. This album is definitely not spectacular, but I like the contemplative mood of the songs, and I guess the next release will show us more about ALL TIME HIGH.
So, with a name like All Time High and coming from the Small Stone stable I was expecting a bunch of pot-bellied, heavily bearded backwoods throwbacks raping the shit out of a bunch of Big Muff pedals and extolling the virtues of pretty much any form of intoxication...whether that be a bong full of Mary Jane, a barrel load of fermented hops, auto erotic asphyxiation or burnt pigeon shit smoked off a shoe polish tin lid. This sounded like a band with an eye on a party and a whole lot of noise. It seems my expectations have, once again been confounded by those pesky Small Stoners. There are two things that you notice immediately; one, they're from Seattle and two; the album cover resembles some sort of chill out style trance compilation. Holy Shit Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Fuzzville anymore!!!!
The Seattle thing is easily the most significant thing about All Time High. The various members have all served their time in various bands around the rainy city in their past and are acutely aware of the musical heritage of the region...I think we all know that I'm referring to the grunge boom of the late 80's/early 90's. That's not to say these guys are a bunch of dour, plaid clad downbeats recycling Sabbath riffs. You won't hear a trace of Soundgarden or Alice in Chains style frowny metal here or even Mudhoney's lysergic garage fuzz. Nor will you hear The Melvin's elephantine crawl. The ghost of Mr Cobain does loom large over much of the proceedings here, however, particularly in the vocal stylings of Adrian Makins whose raspy grasp of melody betrays a keen slacker sense of what makes a great pop song. All Time High, however, don't plummet the depths of noisy, double barrel sucking angst that Nirvana seemed to wallow in, rather they have taken the keen pop suss of that band and thrown it in with a whole load of other influences to create a fantastic soundtrack to a lazy summer. It may not be stoner rock in the accepted sense but it sure as hell is stoner rock as West Coast psychedelia rubs shoulders with fuzzy 70's rock riffs and tips it's hat to punked up Soul Asylum style Americana.. All Time High may be respectful of their North Western heritage but they're certainly not chained to it.
All Time high are able to switch from strident rock as on opener "Rule of Thirds" to the more indie Nirvana meets Pixies meets REM jangle and roll of "Pollyanna" (Kurt would have killed himself to come up with that chorus!!!). At the other end of the scale "Tight Rope" mixes a phased stoner riff with a loose blues progression that could have come staggering in from the mid 70's in a haze of weed and whiskey. The whole album is the musical equivalent of a carb free diet...no bloating and heightened levels of energy. No riff or melody here is surplus to requirements and each song an exercise in economics. Even when the band throw a curve ball as in "Twistin' The Knife" which side steps effortlessly from a brooding off beat verse to a summery punky chorus it all flows like tequila at a beach party.
To further their grunge credentials the band have drafted in veteran grunge producer Jack Endino to give the songs a lean and mean, perfectly balanced lovely dry sound that gives the guitars of Makins and Sam Williams enough punch, edge and clarity to really cut through yet enough fuzz to give a nice breadth of sound. As with the songs the production is also stripped down and live giving the impression that in the studio, in a club or in the rehearsal room you'll get the same sound every time...and that's what you want from a rock and roll band...the truth!!!
It is hard to dodge the Nirvana comparisons here, "New Urge" would have sat very happily on "Nevermind" and "No Mind" would have been a real highlight had it appeared on "Bleach", but the fact remains that Nirvana spearheaded a change in music nearly 20 years ago and in terms of sheer quality pop song writing were largely flawless so such comparisons should in no way be taken as derogatory. To create a 12 song album of such class and compositional skill where each song stands up as a perfect nugget of high energy rock and roll gold is an impressive feat regardless of genre or influence.
So kick off your shoes, lay back on your bed with a big fat doobie and let this album slowly seep into your conscience as you step into slacker heaven...and take my advice, let it spin a few times to really let it open its arms and pull you in as it may not be an immediate fix for some of you, but once it's in there it'll have it's feet under your table and its toothbrush by you sink for good.
On their 2010 debut, cheekily named Friends in High Places (although it was produced by legendary grunge producer Jack Endino), Seattle's All Time High initially comes over like a cross between Nirvana (witness the near power-pop sugar sprinkled over "Pollyanna") and the Screaming Trees… really more like the latter at their more focused, least acid laced moments. But All Time High's penchant for psych-tinged alternative rock (wrought to near perfection on album highlights "Rule of Thirds," "Tight Rope" and "New Urge") doesn't sound overly dated to the 1990s, thanks to the musicians' extensive scholarship in all eras of the Pacific Northwest's distinctive music history. This awareness give songs like "Twistin' the Knife Away" and "Earthquake Bee" the feel, if not the unpolished grit and savagery, of ‘60s garage rock stalwarts like The Sonics, The Wailers, or The Kingsmen (all charter members of the legendary Nuggets compilation). Other cuts like "Land of the Free," "No Mind" and "Astral" flex their hard rock muscles over churning grooves reminiscent of Marc Ford's short lived Burning Tree or Seattle's own drug-destroyed Sea Hags. Given all of these influences there may be some concern that All Time High are treading stale waters, but that's simply not the case when Friends in High Places is heard from start to finish, and the listener can appreciate the length and breadth of the group's vision unfolding like a very god acid trip.
- Eduardo Rivadavia
Welcome to the Pacific Northwest, cousin, where twelve songs of soggy alt-pop are more at home than any other place in time. There’s a dissident air of teen spirit here, a place crowded by zombie children in silver pants, with unwashed hair, with uncashed cheques. By all means, burn a hole in your sweater with a dying cigarette, but don’t forget to kiss that girl with the bubblegum lips. Cobain’s not really dead, that’s a fact, and hey, didn’t you really dig that first Bionic record? I thought you did. You can have it all, you know, the honey and the mud, but don’t touch the Tad poster on the telephone pole. That stays right where it is so future generations know. Just call Jack, he’ll show you how it goes. Now ride your cosmic motorcycle on out of here, back from whence you came, and tell them what you heard, that everything has changed in as much as it’s the same.
Back in the bad ol’ days of the late 80s and early 90s, there was a musical mini-movement dubbed “grunge,” after the fuzz-encrusted guitar tone favored by its practitioners. Grunge mixed the dissonance and anger (if not the energetic propulsion) of punk rock with the in-your-face riffs and dinosaur stomp of classic 60s and 70s hard rock/metal for a sound that, if not exactly new, at least sounded fresh. It’s a sound that is much maligned these days, but for those of us who grew up in small towns without access to underground rock radio, who were the same age as grunge’s avatars and who shared the same sense of confusion, rage and ambivalence for what was being offered us by mainstream culture, grunge made perfect sense. More practically, it also served as a nice bridge between classic rock and more alternative noises.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that Friends in High Places, the debut from Seattle quartet ALL TIME HIGH, hits me right in my sweet spot. Not as pop-minded as NIRVANA, as psychedelic as SCREAMING TREES or as weird as SOUNDGARDEN, ATH nonetheless bears echoes of all three. The band’s riffs fly fast and furious, whether banging against each other like radar-confused bats or joining in harmony for some heads-down boogie, while the rhythm section keeps a rock-steady hand on the wheel. Frontdude ADRIAN MAKINS‘ lyrics strive for new ways to express the usual concerns, while his raspy croon sounds created specifically to float over melodic-yet-bruising passages. Given an appropriately clearheaded, loud mix by Pacific Northwest grunge mentor JACK ENDINO, cool tracks like “Earthquake Bee,” “Pollyanna” and “Nice Guys Laugh Last” are well-crafted songs given enthusiastic performances. Given its locale and obvious influences, All Time High could be accused of a retro fixation. But to my ears Friends in High Places sounds less nostalgic than timeless.
- Michael Toland
Imagine: Shortly after their gig at Bob’s Country Bunker, Jake, Elwood and the rest of the Blues Brothers trek north and west to the rainy climes of Seattle for the fabled “next show.” Upon arrival they find themselves at Adrian’s Flannel Shack, where they purport to have both kinds of music; grunge and alternative. Hilarity ensues.
If there really was an Adrian’s Flannel Shack, the name on the marquee outside would be All Time High. Fronted by VALIS bassist/vocalist Adrian Makins — who here plays guitar — the band runs through a warming 12 tracks of pop-based heavy alternative rock on their Small Stone debut, Friends in High Places. It’s not actually grunge, thanks largely to the production of the venerable Jack Endino, who does an excellent job of making it sound like Makins, fellow guitarist Sam Williams, bassist Steb Brown and drummer Matt Vandenberghe (also of VALIS and since replaced by Bryan Garfinkle) have showered within the last week.
It needs to be said: Nirvana. There. Now it’s out in the open and we can proceed through the rest of this review without the elephant in the room. A strong Incesticide current runs through “Pollyanna” and “No Mind,” but All Time High’s heavier low end and classic rock tendencies give a richer context to the material than can be summed up in a comparison to any one band. That said, if you were to blindfold me, lock me in a room somewhere without the bio, play “Earthquake Bee” and ask what city the band who wrote it was from, I’d probably say Seattle, even if the bassline toward the end of that song reminds me of “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” by Primus.
VALIS guitarist/vocalist Van Conner — who featured All Time High and other regional luminaries on his Northwest Mind Meld compilation last year — shows up on no fewer than three tracks with backing vocals, and Endino himself serves in a likewise capacity, joining Makins on highlight cut “Twistin’ the Knife Away,” “New Urge” and “Already Gone.” But more than the guests, what’s notable about Friends in High Places is the blending of pop structures, driving riffs and a thick bottom. “No Mind” has plenty of starts and stops in the chorus and is just one of any number of memorable, catchy songs on the record. Even “You Can’t Kill the Messenger,” the intro to which has the strongest sonic link to VALIS and in particular the track “Under Satan’s Will” from 2009’s Dark Matter, leaves a strong impression despite a moodier approach than some of the album’s more upbeat material.
Closer “Astral,” which seems to come after a break following “You Can’t Kill the Messenger” (a couple quiet seconds between the two make it a really clear distinction), works its way in bass first and ends Friends in High Places on a nearly psychedelic note. Still structured, but perhaps less rigidly so than some of the other songs, its lead guitar lines seem to reach into some great beyond, and as the track nears its apex, the album finds one of its most satisfying moments in its last.
Acknowledging that the commercial heyday of Seattle’s alternative rock scene was nigh on 20 years ago now, All Time High show it’s still possible to use the form as a means to a new end and not just needlessly remake what’s already been done. Sure to find favor among those who grew up around their hometown’s signature sound, Friends in High Places’ appeal is by no means limited to that. Its solid, heavy rock execution and accomplished, accessible songwriting results in a satisfying listen whether or not you’re a fan of the style that birthed it. Straightforward rock just waiting to be joined for some good times. Recommended.
- H.P. Taskmaster