Tim Heidecker’s transformation into a serious musician is a lot like if Andy Kaufman had dropped his professional wrestling heel shtick and started playing Major League Baseball. This isn’t to say it can’t be done, it’s only to say that entreating fans who only knew Heidecker as a cringe comedian whose earliest songs had titles like “Wipe My Butt” and “I Sit Down When I Pee” to now embrace him as a sensitive singer-songwriter who makes concept albums about romantic break-ups and existential contemplation is a big ask. On Tim’s latest full-length album, High School, he’s joined once again by his musical collaborator of the last handful of years, Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado. Other guests on High School include Mac DeMarco, Kurt Vile, and the Fruit Bats’ Eric D. Johnson.
The jangly, upbeat “Buddy” opens High School, and the immediately catchy song is an easy to love instant winner. Heidecker’s lyrics are straightforward as he reminisces about a luckless friend from his youth. Tim timestamps the memories by namedropping the Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine, and a happy piano and guitar solo midway through help pull the two ends of the track together nicely. “Chillin’ In Alaska” finds Heidecker remembering a cousin stealing a girl from him. The stilted guitar, retro synths, and backing “oohs” give the song a Steve Winwood circa 1980s feel. On “Get Back Down to Me”, Heidecker cribs the groove from T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” but utilizes brighter chords as he sings about taking time for introspection and self-contemplation. The lovely “I’ve Been Losing” closes out High School’s first side. The song is notable if only for its unexpectedly self-critical lyrics like, “Talkin’ too much, maybe I should stop and listen.”
The country number “Punch in the Gut” opens High School’s second side and it’s the one song on the record where the absence of Heidecker’s humor is most missed. Here, Tim puts on a slight southern drawl as he sings about watching boys fight an outsider accused of doing something he didn’t do. With lyrics like, “Never wanted to cross across the chin, never wanted to commit that particular sin,” the track is awkward and tough to swallow. “Stupid Kid” has Tim reflecting fondly about the first time he heard and saw Neil Young. It’s a sweet memory about inspiration and encouraging parents but is perhaps best appreciated as being an origin story of Heidecker’s passion for music. High School is concluded with “Kern River”, which, with its simple beat, gently plucked guitar, and light synths makes for a pleasant, optimistic ender.
Delivering ten songs in under forty minutes, High School feels just long enough. Although the inclusion of established contemporary musicians like Kurt Vile and Mac DeMarco certainly help Heidecker’s credibility, Tim’s largely decent songwriting here proves he’s more than capable of constructing an unpretentious corker on his own. For listeners already familiar with Tim Heidecker’s comedy, his voice alone will make it impossible to separate the anti-comedy surrealist from the sincere tunesmith. Regardless, the unbridled joy and naturalness Tim conveys on the bulk of these songs make High School a solid album that gives further cachet to his musical ambitions.