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Human Highway: Moody Motorcycle [Album Review]

Human Highway by Jaime Hogge

Written by Fense

For those devastated by the demise of The Unicorns in 2004, the sadness was short-lived and out of The Unicorns’ carcass burst Islands and, close to a year and a half later, Return To Sea graced independent radio stations and iPods throughout the nation. Now, ex-Unicorns and current Islands mastermind Nick Thorburn has teamed up with fellow Canadian musician (and sometimes Islands guitarist) Jim Guthrie for a new, stripped down project titled Human Highways.

Like the earlier bands, there’s a distinct Thorburn signature in several songs on Moody Motorcycle, the duo’s debut on Suicide Squeeze. What may come as a surprise, is that Guthrie has a heavier hand in the creation of songs that appear to have Thorburn’s musical touch. Beach Boys-y opener “The Sound” has the sound of Islands—or even The Unicorns—as does the title track, yet the latter was arranged by Guthrie.

For those that missed the quirky sound that The Unicorns tossed into their instrumentation and songwriting, traces of it can be heard here. It’s in the title track where the early Thorburn concoction in The Unicorns is most present. The song sounds like it could have been recorded by that beloved Thorburn group. Furthermore, harmonies on tunes like “My Beach” also fit the description. But, overall, the album is lighter and more stripped down.

Several tunes are simple in nature and soft in volume, a trait not generally common in Thorburn’s prior groups; but this style of folk-pop is familiar territory for Guthrie, who has recorded folky solo works since the mid-90s. The quirkiness is still rampant throughout the songwriting in Human Highway, but it’s more… refined, you could say. It shows Thorburn, now in his mid-twenties, growing up a bit—but not too much, as there is plenty of playfulness throughout Moody Motorcycle. And it’s a joyous romp for Guthrie, whose solo work (at least what I’ve heard of his work) tends to stick to the lo-fi folk.

For those expecting something too close to Islands may be disappointed—remember, this is a duo—but there’s plenty to get excited about with Moody Motorcycle. Sure, many of the tracks, like “Sleep Talking” and “Vision Failing”, may be ballads, but they’re just as wonderful as the more powerful tunes like “The Sound” and “Moody Motorcycle.”

Human Highway: The Sound [mp3]
[audio:0904_human_highway_-_the_sound.mp3|titles=The Sound|artists=Human Highway]

Moody Motorcycle by Human Highway

Suicide Squeeze [CD, 2008]

1. The Sound
2. All Day
3. Get Lost
4. What World
5. Sleep Talking
6. Moody Motorcycle
7. My Beach
8. Ode To Abner
9. Pretty Hair
10. Vision Failing
11. Duties Of A Lighthouse Keeper
12. I Wish I Knew

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