Highlife was born in 2008 when Shaw, along with White Magic collaborator Mira Billotte, retreated from New York to the small island of Gaspar Grande off the coast of Trinidad, at the southernmost point of the Carribean trail. The pair spent long, wandering nights chanting and inducing trance, recording on a portable setup that Shaw had lugged along. Shaw chose the name Highlife to imbue a feeling of rejoicing and high consciousness, while also giving a nod to the genre of African music ‘Highlife’, which has greatly influenced his guitar style. With the sun indelible in mind, Shaw and Billotte crossed the Atlantic, returning to his hometown of London. It was there at Southern Studios that full-band versions of the songs were recorded by the brilliant Harvey Birrel (Crass, Sir Richard Bishop, Buzzcocks). Shaw and Billotte were joined on these sessions by Tim Koh (Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffitti) and Jesse Lee (Gang Gang Dance), who play bass and drums respectively on "Burying Stones".
Whistling missiles drop and machine-gun guitars unload over a Mahmoud Ahmed percussion loop for Best Bless’ opening song "War Fair". Next, "F Kenya Rip" leaps into it’s bright circular canter, guitars entwine - teasing at becoming tangled, as Shaw begins the inquiry and a chorus of Billotte’s voices bursts forth. A blissful West-African style lilt ensues, with piano cascading and bass bouncing - and the song circles itself in it’s reverie as though it is intent on it’s eternity. Shaw drew influence for "F Kenya Rip" from the style of the F Kenya Guitar Band, in particular their song "Madame Zehae Ala" (Just As I Am), whose refrain is repeated throughout "F Kenya Rip".
"Burying Stones" is a tripped out, circular four to the floor, devotional anthem. A hysteria inducing loop is swallowed by bubbling guitars and pianos, as drums build and Shaw pronounces 'The old new was like new'. Therein the song drops into an incessant groove, as harmonizing guitars jump down the neck, oscillating against one another in echoed tremolo. "Tuareg Dancehall" plays to it’s name, invoking the melodic musical rudiments of the Tuareg nomads, as a journey unfurls towards a distant desert dancehall. "Best Bless" closes out with the subdued home recording of "Wet Palm Trees". It represents the earliest recording on this record - being penned and recorded on the eve of Shaw’s departure from Trinidad.
As of late Sleepy Doug Shaw has relocated back to NYC where he has been gracing stages of all sizes, quickly become a local favourite, and has still found time to moonlight as Gang Gang Dance’s Bass Player...