Tracing the trajectory of The Helio Sequence’s musical evolution—from the angst-ridden psychedelic shoegaze fuzz of Com Plex and Young Effectuals to their more electronically buoyant keyboard sample-fest Love and Distance—the curve rises drastically like a day-trader’s wet dream. Long awaited follow-up, Keep Your Eyes Ahead, rides that ascension into a gentle plateau; melding trademark looming guitars with an unexpected foray into folk.
In the four years since we last heard from the duo of Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel, Summers shredded his vocals on tour and forced to teach himself vocal exercises and new mic techniques. While on that same tour he consumed dozens of books to alleviate the boredom of self-imposed silence (among them Bob Dylan’s Chronicles). The resultant album is a maturation of spirit and sound; Summers’ lyrics express a surprising depth of feeling without relying on the clichéd criticisms of social institutions as on past works.
Musically, minimalism is the modus operandi. Where once Weikel’s keyboard applied layer upon layer onto Summers’ shimmering guitar wail, now a lithely picked acoustic guitar resounds. Dylan’s Chronicles must have had a profound affect on Summers’ songwriting as much as his psyche; on “Shed Your Love” and “Broken Afternoon,” he channels the troubadour like none I’ve ever heard, his acoustic guitar ringing out as tenaciously as if he were the man himself. On the latter, Summers even matches the freewheeler’s timbre to a warbling tee.
Remnants from the duo’s earlier efforts yet claw through the often sparse exterior. “Can’t Say No” rattles like a Love and Distance B-side, all triumph and anti-capitalistic sentiment set to massive guitar and bubbling keyboards. The simmering “Hallelujah” achieves its namesakes’ glorious pronouncement, an anthemic fist-shaker saddled to stuttering snare snaps and reverb. The charging title track even nods appreciation to new wave with it’s authentically ’80s demeanor.
The duo’s direction—brave, bold, mostly effective—seems a natural move given their gradual transition from noisy pop to just-plain-pop. Who knows what another four years might bring?
Stereolab – Peng!
Aloha – Some Echoes
Built To Spill – Ancient Melodies Of The Future