Aztec Camera – High Land, Hard Rain

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I bought this cassette in high school, at Rose Records in Vernon Hills, Illinois; it was roughly six years after its release, but I was ten when it was released and not yet in my Scottish indie phase. My mother asked why I was buying “Mexican music.” I don’t recall how I learned about Aztec Camera – I had no access to MTV and didn’t even know of the “Oblivious” video until many years later – but I fell in love with this and played the shit out of it. I was in a carpool senior year and on my one day a week to drive, I played this over and over; I didn’t care that it threatened to expose a romantic streak (I doubt anyone was paying attention anyway) nor, obviously, that it might annoy my passengers. In college, I tried to convince the metalheads in the dorm that Roddy Frame’s guitarwork was superior to Kirk Hammett’s – that effort didn’t turn out how I’d hoped. Frame was in his teens when he wrote and recorded this, and of course, never equalled it and apparently never wanted to. I used to be upset about what I viewed as squandered talent, but in time I just grew to accept that High Land, Hard Rain was a special album and that the absence of a worthy sequel only underscored its uniqueness.

What I Think of This Album

This is basically a flawless album, dated production aside (the drum sounds are a travesty). It’s astonishing that Frame was such an accomplished songsmith, guitarist, and lyricist at such a tender age. Throughout, Frame exudes paired but contrasting sentiments:  he is youthful but weary, exuberant but realistic, yearning but resigned. He sounds like someone exponentially wiser than even your most precocious teen, and if that’s just an illusion, well then all the more power to Frame for it.

The songs are a revelation – catchy, timeless, bright, clean, and crisp. The guitars – a web of acoustic and electric, rife with Latin flavorings and jazz voicings – are ON FUCKING DISPLAY on track after track:  “Oblivious,” “The Boy Wonders,” “Walk Out to Winter,” “We Could Send Letters,” and “Lost Outside the Tunnel,” all feature jaw-dropping runs and fills. Special kudos to bassist Campbell Owens for some nimble work throughout, while producer Bernie Clarke adds some nice backing organ. “Oblivious” is the obvious pop hit, with “The Boy Wonders” not far behind and “Pillar to Post” right there, too. “We Could Send Letters” is a beautiful ballad, matched if not outdone by the gorgeous “Back on Board,” with its fantastic gospel choir outro.

The CD version I have adds three extra tracks to the original album, all welcome additions, particularly the fun rockabilly of “The Queen’s Tattoos,” which has a nice reference to Iggy Pop.

Phil Vinall (the Auteurs, Elastica, Close Lobsters) was the engineer.

The Best Thing About This Album

It’s really hard to pick, but I think “Down the Dip” (Dip being shorthand for Diplomat, a pub near Frame’s high school) is the perfect closer for this album. Short, sweet, and strong.

Release Date

April, 1983

The Cover Art

Yeah, this is a terrible cover. I don’t know what the fuck that painting is about or why it’s here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑