The High Strung, and especially frontman Josh Malerman, are enthralled with blending fact and fiction. Malerman’s Facebook page declares he worked at “General Faw Faw’s Impossible Meats” in 1852 and that he attended “Fabulous Posture University” for the 95 years leading up to 1902. Because of this, their history and experiences are like big riddles, short puzzles that are as artistic as the albums they’ve made. And of their six albums, none captures this fascination with the absurd better than the new one, rightly called ?Posible o’ Imposible?
When describing how the band formed, Malerman either discusses grade schools and gym classes or, more recently, mental homes, where he says he was a patient and guitarist Stephen Palmer was an orderly, before the two realized they worked well together and busted out.
The rhythm section of Chad Stocker (bass) and Derek Berk (drums) are everything a music fan relishes; explosive, original, and danceable, too. When describing them, Malerman says he can’t remember if they “planted” him or if he planted them but “either way we grew out of the ground and picked each other and presented one another to mother in a vase.”
The songs on ?Posible o’ Imposible? are just as enigmatic. Thinking big is the main thread, but maybe it should be described as “imagining” big. The album is home to many modern characters, most of whom are on the verge of creating a grand spectacle. The hunter who tires of animals and seeks out black holes and planets in “Big Game Hunter”. The man who has toiled in obscurity only to be flooded with opportunities in “On Your Way Up!”. The man who experiences the weather before his peers in “Giant.” And, most notably, the world described in “Rats, Rats, Rats” where “there’s a job opening for a clerk at the Church of Satan” and a “dance tonight at the Church of Raging Hormones.”
The High Strung do not present themselves as ironic; their absurdist scenarios are delivered in a way that reveals they mean it. And the band is on their way up, having scored the theme song for Showtime’s new hit series “Shameless”, starring William H. Macy as an impossibly drunk father.
Live, the band verges on a variety show, traveling hucksters who have, as Malerman says, “between a dozen and two dozen melodies in jars, rhythms too, sentences too, and, on stage, if we get lucky, we open the corresponding jars so the songs make real sense.” The best known document detailing the experience of the band’s live show is a lengthy article in Vanity Fair that covers a two-show trip to Guantanamo Bay where Malerman fell in love with a female soldier, Berk was housed with an over zealous interrogator, and the boys “drank more rum than water.”
The High Strung are a rock band, of this there is no doubt, but one that clearly adores music, successfully injecting all this incredulity, absurdity, and irrationality into ?Posible o’ Imposible? and the shows that will accompany it. It’s the type of album kids will be downloading, illegally or not, as they discuss whether or not it’s true that Berk’s drums talk to him or, as Malerman says, “the first time we practiced together, the very first time we played, the boys all struck a C chord at the same time, without preamble. But I sang a D. And instead of thinking we’d fallen short of some cosmic relationship that was meant to be, I immediately understood we were destined to do something… different.”
Download: The High Strung – “On Your Way Up”