There’s always one member of a band that causes trouble. No matter the circumstance, he must argue, dispute and disagree with what the rest of the band wants. And up until recently, the rabble-rouser in The Helio Sequence (only billed as a duo) was their third member – an unruly laptop.
In an opening gig for Ugly Casanova at the Troubadour two years ago, Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel took the stage, grinning and eager to please the sold out crowd. Their not-so-trusty silicon-infused friend, however, was not. Summers cued up the samples for their opener, but their digital companion crapped out on them, causing no less than three false starts.
Problematic as this was, the Portland duo may have temporarily found a way to please their unruly bandmate on their new album, Love and Distance. While samples were used on their previous albums, they primarily served as atmosphere for their spaced-out shoegazer rock. On this record, however, the use of sampling is more dominant, serving less as a textural device than added punch.
“Repeater” immediately shows how much closer the band has come to being a singles-oriented pop band, using electronics for added danceability. Immediately sounding like something off of The Postal Service’s debut album of last year, the song is beepy and blippy until Summers’ guitar and raspy-yet-heroic voice enter the mix, which reveal a new, unexpected source of influence – U2. Summers even approaches Bono-like levels of inspirational lyricism with lines like “call it all intuition/pass it all off as lost/but you know/and I know/that somewhere/there’s an answer.”
The next track “Don’t Look Away” could be the party anthem to land the Sequence a spot on the next K-Tel Indie Jamz compilation (don’t laugh, you know it’s going to happen). Over an equally danceable groove, Summers spouts the party people’s Gospel: “and we all get up/and we all get down/and we all get stuck/then we come around.” The chorus, however, finds the band reverting back to their hazy psychedelic sound of old.
Not every song is on Love and Distance is a club-banger, though almost all of the tracks are equally catchy. Album opener “Harmonica Song” is downright bluesy and, as named, chock full of earthy harmonica. And the country-flavored “Looks Good (But You Looked Away)” closes the album on a more subdued note. In any case, newcomers to the band could still find plenty to enjoy.
The Helio Sequence have changed a bit, but for the better. And it’s no secret that electronics played a big part in that change. But Weikel and Summers had better keep that computer happy, because it would be a damn shame to have to interrupt one of those slammin’ grooves.
Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Postal Service – Give Up
U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.