The Helio Sequence The Helio Sequence
(Sub Pop – May 19, 2015)
(Alternative, Electronic, Indie Rock)
Review by Kalyn Oyer
2004’s Love and Distance offered listeners the apex of what The Helio Sequence had to offer, illustrated by funky rhythms and unconventional indie rock instrumentation (I’m talking about the blues infused “Harmonica Song” and the alien synth happening in “Let it Fall Apart”). And each release since has offered up a safer take on the band’s more generous ideas. Helio Sequence’s most recent S/T release is decidedly confined to a narrower, less exploratory, but nonetheless thorough musical scope. There’s a lot of soothing guitar repetition tying the disc together alongside spacey vocals. And while the drumbeats offer differentiation from the enchanting, echoey overlay, they do not fully meld.
The peaceful yawn of “Battle Lines,” carries over from track to track, the beginning to a line of lullabies. It gives the initial feeling that decides the direction the album is taking: spaced-out crooners to loosen your inhibitions – but not enough to escape into that longed after nirvana of sound.
“Stoic Resemblance” takes on a more classic indie rock flavor with a repetitive segment that serves up some beach rock waves. The “oh, na, na, na” segment, which is basically an imitation of every nonsensical indie fragment, goes on a little too long in my opinion. In places, the guitar in it reminds me of something from Sheryl Crow’s “Soak up the Sun,” while the vocals take on a decidedly different, spaced-out feel with a splash of light psychedelia.
“Red Shifting” serves as a guitar-driven trance. The mostly stagnant patterned rhythm keeps you secured to reality while letting your mind drift in the airy reverb and vocals.
Things get a little hotter with “Upward Mobility,” with accusing lyrics that carry a less carefree tone. The guitar, though still stuck in a repetitive trance that reminds me of a less dynamic Bombay Bicycle Club, gets a little edgier. “Deuces,” continues with an angry undercurrent that officially shifts the mood, though still rocking the captivating psychedelic wave.
“Inconsequential Ties” makes me happy with a new noise! It sounds like a fucked up tambourine, but whatever it is, I really like it. Though it only appears in a consistent rhythm that seems afraid to alter its given beat, it does shake things up (literally) in just one spot, gaining into a shimmery display of soprano before going back to what it knows best.
“Phantom Shore” stands out as the track to break the mold that the rest of The Helio Sequence’s S/T disc is constrained to. With some outer space synth to start things off, it crescendos into a more intense and poignant ballad than anything we’ve heard previously. The vocals are more urgent and earnest, and the dynamics shift throughout, growing into something magnificent and vigorous.
“Never Going Back” wraps things up with the spaciest hit of all. There’s lots of reverb, lots of bending strings, and lots of lyrical, as well as, aural escapism.
The biggest criticism of the album, as you may have guessed at this point, is that it is relatively complacent and noticeably calculated – as it tries to bridge the mainstream. It’s typical indie rock, and yes, it’s more than background music but it isn’t wholly unique. Rhythmically and vocally The Helio Sequence is intoxicating and transcendent but stagnant but last two tracks salvage the album. So, as a whole, the disc is worth the listen if you need a soothing sound to escape your routine in the auditory cosmos. But don’t expect anything mind blowing if you’re looking for something to take you to another dimension.