When High Contrast's debut album, True Colours, dropped in 2002, its house sensibilities provided a refreshing shot in the arm of the stagnant drum & bass scene. Critics everywhere lauded the disc, praising a sound that triggered memories of New York City's halcyon garage days. It was hard to imagine that Lincoln Barrett, the young Brit behind the High Contrast moniker, could outdo himself, but he's succeeded with High Society, his sophomore album released late in 2004.
Tracks like "Lovesick" and "Yesterday's Colours" recall Goldie's Timeless, one of D&B's few great artist albums, by delivering moody vocal atmospherics and soothing bass tones festooned with shimmering synths. However, High Society also boasts the kind of floor-filling hit singles that Timeless lacked. Songs like "Twilight's Last Gleaming" and "Natural High" showcase Barrett's signature talent for shaping nostalgic vocal bits into melodic hooks that play more like synth parts than actual singing. In "Racing Green," Barrett builds up lush orchestral passages and drum crescendos, then tops them off with a euphoric vocal hook, making for infectious dance-floor material. The only downside to Barrett's style is that he tends to shy away from the deeper, gnarlier bass lines that usually get drum & bass crowds moving, probably because they'd be a bad fit for his melodic tracks. That shouldn't be a problem when he DJs at Mercury Lounge this Saturday, since his recently issued mix CD, Mixmag Live: High Contrast, features cuts by the likes of Total Science, Matrix, and Higher Sense, all of which sport more aggressive bass lines.