Photo by Michael Wolever
After releasing his debut studio record Fink, soft grunge singer-songwriter Sean Henry relocated from New York City to his childhood stomping grounds in suburban Connecticut. He spent the next year reconnecting with his youth and honing his craft as he worked on the follow-up. Aptly titled A Jump from the High Dive, it’s a major leap forward, full of sharper hooks and a seemingly bottomless pool of new sounds and textures.
Henry co-produced the record with his long-time friend and collaborator Brian Antonucci in a process he’s compared to scrapbooking. Piling polished takes on top of demo fragments and homemade samples creates a rich and colorful sound with unrefined elements that hearken back to Henry’s lo-fi roots. The smooth riffing and acerbic vocals of “Surf Song” are interwoven with electronic drum breaks, screeches of feedback, and even some cowbell. “Touch The Sun” features synth chords, filtered snare stabs, and record scratches that pop in and then right back out again.
As Henry told The FADER in a recent interview, he also immersed himself in 90s alternative rock while he worked on the album. That gives some context to its wonderfully weird and eclectic bent, deploying funky wah effects and hip-hop beats alongside more typical garage rock guitars. More specifically, you can hear echoes of Ok Computer in the dreamy riffs of “Rain, Rain,” the album closer “Slip” smacks of Beck, and the harmonica intro to “Can U” sure sounds like a “Champagne Supernova” reference.
It’s a cool exercise in sonic synthesis and exploration–all playfully offhand, like his sarcasm-laced lyrics–but the personal exploration and the feeling of dislocation underneath forms the emotional foundation. It shows most clearly in the relatably listless “It’d Never Be Enough.” In verses full of Connecticut townies and country roads, High Dive sees Henry reach for a new way forward, or a second setting-out from home to the big city.
Much of the album’s second half tends toward the easy slacker rock he’s known for, and he plays it well on fuzzy, midtempo jams like “The Cars.” Nothing beats the thrill of possibility in the fragments of pop collage, but a little vibing never hurt anyone, and you never know when it might spin into something else–like the key-changing, screaming buildup that closes “You Fall Away.”
Dense, elastic, and don’t forget catchy, A Jump from the High Dive rewards repeat listening, and it surpasses Fink by far. Where Henry goes from here, who knows–but it makes exile seem like an alright place to start.