Highly Suspect – ‘MCID’

By Yasmin Brown

If one thing’s for certain, it’s that Highly Suspect give absolutely zero fucks about anyone else when it comes to making music. That much has been clear since day one, but as time progresses, this Brooklyn band leans further and further towards a creative mentality that’s aimed at one audience alone: themselves. 

In no way whatsoever is this a problem.

The first couple of tracks on ‘MCID’ are misleading. Here you have the Highly Suspect we’ve grown used to since 2009, an exceptional yet accessible approach to rock music combined with honest and raw lyrics that can often be applied to anyone’s life if you keep your mind open enough.

Opening track ‘Fly’, in particular, is one of the most vulnerable songs Highly Suspect have ever released. A true insight into the mind of frontman Johnny Stevens, this track opens up a battle with suicidal thoughts and self-hatred, and a desperation to find some kind of faith for a better future for himself. It ends with a shout out: to Brooklyn and to Venice Beach (the band’s two homes), to cats and dogs before finally announcing that “this is a family. This is MCID”. 

‘MCID’: the name of the band’s third album, and their longtime mantra which – literally – stands for ‘My Crew is Dope’ but on a deeper level refers to ideals surrounding love and positivity. It’s a slogan that grown from merely having meaning for a small group of people to being something adopted by fans worldwide, and while we’re soon to discover that this is a jumbled album of endless ideas, somehow the concept of MCID brings it all together to make perfect sense. 

Sonically, there’s little order within this 14 track collection, with chaotic and lawless transitions such as the one between ‘Tokyo Ghoul’ featuring hip hop artist Young Thug and  ‘SOS’, featuring heavy metalists Gojira serving as just one example of how manic this record can be. It’s an attack on the senses as you go from synth-driven dance beats to music that’s just about as heavy as it gets, and sometimes you want to step right off this train that you’ve voluntarily boarded and find a safe space where you know exactly what’s coming next. Ultimately, though, there’s no denying that hidden deep within the confusion is a huge amount of songwriting and musical talent, and with most music being so predictable in today’s industry it’s almost (almost) a relief to find something that quite blows your mind the way this record does. Its unpredictability shows that there’s no expectation in regards to any pending success following release, and with this lack of expectation comes fearlessness. After critical acclaim in the form of a Grammy nomination back in 2016, there’s no obvious bid to gain another meaning this this album is about as fearless as they come. 

Aside from the sonic mayhem of which ‘MCID’ is made up, there are a number of topics addressed throughout the record that will – personally relatable or not – hit hard. ‘16’, for example – which is reminiscent of 2016’s ‘Wolf’ – combines gospel undertones with the idea of finding out that your girlfriend is pregnant and later finding out that the baby isn’t yours. It’s a step back to long-lost innocence and it’s filled with pain and regret, conveyed through near perfect lyrics and music that takes aim straight to the heart. These moments are dotted throughout, but never have more impact than during ‘@tddybear’, which features the soft yet outstanding vocals of Nothing But Thieves’ Conor Mason, or the sad and soothing ‘Arizona’, an acoustically fuelled track with gorgeous violin accompaniment. These are the moments during which fans are allowed an insight into a more vulnerable side of the otherwise hard and crass Johnny Stevens, and in these moments you can’t help but fall more in love with this band.

While often dark and devastating, though, this record is also a lot of fun. Whether it’s Johnny’s rapping in ‘Freakstreet’,  the wonderfully odd video game / Japanese inspired instrumental intermission that comes in the form of ‘Tetsuo’s Bike’, or the catchy and cool hip-hop collaboration with Tee Grizzly, ‘The Silk Road’, there are endless moments of pure fun to be found here, too. That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t a message to found within these instances, particularly ‘The Silk Road’ which is the first notion of a political ‘agenda’ here, condemning the idea of ‘God’s plan’ in a world where senseless death is commonplace.

Not that Highly Suspect seem to really do anything with an agenda in mind, with everything they put out into the world screaming authenticity and a kind of uninhibited spirit. They don’t care about album length (and this one clocks in at 58 minutes), or cohesiveness or pleasing anyone other than the three members of this band, as the only point they’re out to prove is that this is how they feel and they’ll be damned if anyone tries to stop them from speaking their truth.

And speaking of truth – while the whole ‘MCID’ album is an absolute mindfuck, the real anomaly comes in the form of ‘These Days’, an almost spoken word track that refuses to hide behind poetry to the point where it’s verging on a crude train of thought. In an album filled with layer upon layer of sounds, ‘These Days’ is the most simple of the lot and it’s this simplicity that makes it stand out the most. While there are other tracks that far better highlight this band’s talent, it’s this one that forges the most solid connection between band and listener because these are words that, frankly, anyone could have written.

As we’ve long since figured out, ‘MCID’ is all over the place, but each track has its own piece of magic and collectively, this record shows all facets of Johnny’s mind as well as highlighting that Highly Suspect refuse to be forced within the confines of a genre. We already know Highly Suspect are one of the best bands to come out of this decade, but ‘MCID’ has firmly cemented this fact in our minds through their seemingly infinite list of influences – all of which are executed seamlessly into their own defining sound. While there could have been an attempt to have these sounds meld together more fluidly in places, we’ve already ascertained that this band works for no one but Highly Suspect, and the mayhem only makes it all the more enjoyable. 

The final two tracks, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Nairobi’, bring the record full circle, with ‘Snow White’ mirroring the theme of opening track ‘Fly’, leaving you with a positive outlook, despite the turbulent journey this record has taken you on up until this point. Unexpectedly, it transitions into the trippy and ambient ‘Nairobi’ fairly seamlessly, bringing the record to a comforting and satisfying end.

YASMIN BROWN

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