Seattle’s Helvetia have emerged from the basement for the follow up to 2006’s The Clever North Wind, and stepped brazenly into the blinding light of a decidedly more pop universe. While their debut effort wrapped itself around the fuzzy lo-fi tendencies made famous by Yo La Tengo and Guided By Voices, sophomore effort The Acrobats generally eschews the bedroom aesthetic in favor of much higher production values. Of course having Jim Roth (Apostrophes, Built To Spill) in the recording booth probably didn’t hurt either.
Former Duster bandmates Jason Albertini and Dove Amber still comprise the core lineup of Helvetia, along with Adam Howery on bass, but this time around garner guest appearances from luminaries Brett Netson (Built To Spill) and Mike Johnson (Dinosaur Jr.). The resultant jams retain plenty of spaced-out moments; however it’s a crisper sort of psychedelia, licentious rather than languid, bursting often with pulsing organ drones and lithe guitar riffs. All signs of the 4-track recordings that characterized their first album are essentially erased from memory.
Albertini’s vocals resemble a stoned version of Wayne Coyne’s croon, earnest if somewhat lacking in range. Songs shift seamlessly between the dreary and daft. While “Harbored” delves into more haunting depths, full of wavering guitar squeals and a persistent drum beat, tracks like “Blasting Carolina” and “The Fever” dip their fingers unabashedly into the classic rock trick-bag, complete with chords that ramble raucously.
“It’s hard to breathe in the city,” comes the whispered lament from stand-out “Watermelon Sugar,” a shuffling up-beat saunter followed by the equitably toe-tapping “Summer.” “Old New Bicycle” slices a generous piece from The Sea and Cake, a jazzed warbler of mellow proportions. This three-song block from the heart of the album proves the most invigorating on Acrobats, a sampler of stylistic deviations that define the band at this moment of their development.
When the guitars are given space to launch skyward, and where the welcome drone of organ paints a background that shimmers golden against a cymbal crash, The Acrobats is as nimble as its name suggests. The soundtrack to a summer day spent lazily in the sun, Helvetia demonstrates a growing confidence that, if yet missing a few pieces of that perfect pop concoction, are rapidly approaching its dazzling pinnacle.
The Sea and Cake – The Sea and Cake
Guided By Voices – Sandbox
Built To Spill – Perfect From Now On