Tim Heidecker: High School Album Review

Over the past ten years, in his musical side job alongside comedy, Tim Heidecker has amassed an extensive catalog of soft rock songs about mortality and heartbreak, political dystopia and everyday existentialism. And yet, one of the most poignant songs on his latest album, Secondary schoolis usually about a Neil Young video, more specifically about Young’s 1993’s disconnected performance of “Harvest Moon.” The story goes like this: Heidecker is a teenager in Allentown, Pennsylvania, who watches MTV on a Saturday night. Transfixed by Young’s performance, he learns the song on guitar and plays it for his parents. They say he sounds great, but that’s what they say about everything he does. He goes out and buys the album, feeling disappointed by the more elaborate studio performance. He eventually learns to appreciate that version and puts it on a mix CD for a crush, who breaks up with him not long after.

As far as autobiographical songwriting goes, this isn’t the most compelling source material. And as Heidecker sings it – one mundane detail at a time, with little poetic embellishment – he seems to amplify how ordinary the whole thing is. But there is something profound and true about Heidecker’s journey through the past Secondary school, a self-recorded concept album about his adolescence. Co-produced with a backing band of Drew Erickson, Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats and Mac DeMarco, the music glides on with the reflective sheen of 80s singer-songwriter utterances such as Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of love and Randy Newman’s Trouble in Paradise† With a lively, lived-in sound and some of Heidecker’s warmest and most empathetic lyrics, each song feels like a spiral into a deeper truth about how we end up as the adults we are.

Take, for example, the main character in “Buddy,” a local stoner whose devolution in a cautionary tale happens so subtly that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it takes place. It’s a eulogy delivered like a campfire sing-along, as Heidecker’s perspective shifts from a character study to a moment of self-interrogation: “Do you think I’ve let you down? We lost touch as soon as I was out of town,” he sings sadly. Many of the songs take similar leaps and never offer a sense of resolution or a moral to their stories. Instead, Heidecker focuses on why these limitless childhood memories tend to stay with us, why we revisit them decades later, still turn them around and retrace our steps.

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