Review : The Helio Sequence - Negotiations
PitchforkWhat the Helio Sequence once were isn't what they want to be anymore. On tour for 2004's so-so Love and Distance, the Portland widescreeners' Brandon Summers lost his voice, a rather unfortunate affliction for the vocalist of an indie rock band trying to make a go of it. Rather than pack it in, Summers went out, got healthy, and found himself a vocal coach to put him through the paces. It worked: 2008's Keep Your Eyes Ahead found Summers doing the best singing of his life, trading up from the oft-strained delivery of his earlier work for a newfound confidence and clarity. And the music followed, trading up from their middle-of-the-pack post-Beta Band synth-pop tinkering to something several shades bolder and more rousing. "The long and fulfilling trajectory" our Andrew Gaerig predicted would follow Keep Your Eyes Ahead continues apace with Negotiations, their fifth LP. As Summers continues to settle into his new voice, the music that surrounds it has grown ever-grander to match.
Negotiations, like Keep Your Eyes Ahead before it, is just a big record, its towering choruses and wide-open spaces making for plenty of high drama. But it's a graceful, reserved sort of grandiosity: Negotiations' melodies are shapely, its tone autumnal, its playing confident and unshowy. With its elliptical song-structures and pristine production, Negotiations neatly sidesteps much of the excess (both sonic and emotional) associated with pop on this scale; it's rare that Summers and multi-instrumentalist Ben Weikel sound like a duo, exactly, but time and again they know just when to quit piling it on. They're as good with the more muted mid-tempo stuff as they are with blood-pumping uplift; Summers' wine-drunk Dylan routine, passable at best, made up most of Keep Your Eyes Ahead's weaker moments, but the dusky "Harvester of Souls" and the twinkling makeout synths of "Silence on Silence" prove they're as deft with a ballad as they are with anything bigger. Hints of psych and prog color the margins here, but by and large, Negotiatons takes the romantic sweep of 1980s arena-pop and plays it with the relative emotional reserve and compositional trickiness of turn-of-the-millenium Pacific Northwest indie. Sidestepping go-for-broke bombast and easy melodrama, Summers and Weikel lean into Negotiations' curves, making their every move count...full text
ConsequenceofsoundAccording to the press release for The Helio Sequence’s latest effort, Negotiations, the album’s sound was shaped by nature itself. Back in 2009, their practice space was completely flooded thanks to some faulty pipes. Luckily, they were on tour at the time, so most of their good equipment was with them. The band found a new place with more room– specifically, more room for instruments– and filled the space with analog gear, including tape delays and tube amps. The resulting work is warmer and more ethereal than before, comprising a strong and inviting album.
The amount of sound that the duo of Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel can create in the space of each song is astounding by itself. But the way Weikel has programmed his synths and tailored his drums, how Summers has crafted his guitar lines, and how it’s all finally submerged in acres of reverb is truly remarkable. The album is both winter sparse and fireplace warm. There are two tracks in particular that exemplify these extremes.
With “One More Time”, Summers’ jangling guitar and soaring vocals surround the listener like snow and jacket simultaneously, holding you close as he sings, “Rest yourself easy, baby.” The notes seem to roll forever outward from Summers’ and Weikel’s musical heat, the reverb deflecting the cold. The minimal “Harvester of Souls”, on the other hand, is as stark as the album gets—it’s as if Summers is sitting in an empty aircraft hangar of chilling tape reverb, pouring himself out and beckoning you forth into the darkness. Weikel’s sparse percussion and synths creak and clink like ice in the trees. It’s chilling and beautiful....full text
AllmusicPortland, Oregon's dreamy indie folk duo the Helio Sequence have built their discography on a series of somewhat unfortunate but ultimately sound-shaping external circumstances. Starting off with a focus on ambient soundscapes and buried vocals, the band's experimentation with bringing the vocals to the forefront for its yelpy 2004 album, Love and Distance, resulted in singer Brandon Summers damaging his vocal cords shouting the songs out night after night on tour. His bruised voice was reborn in a raspy Waits-meets-Dylan style, which informed the overarching indie folk feel of the band's 2008 breakthrough, Keep Your Eyes Ahead, and brought out its more somber, low-lit moments. ...full text
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