For those who have kept up with The Helio Sequence over the past decade, the first thing likely to jump out on fifth album Negotiations is the hyper-layered, reverb heavy mixing throughout the 11 mellow, yet progressive tunes. To fully understand the change in production values, however, a little storytelling is necessary. During a tour in support of 2008’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead, singer/guitarist Brandon Summers and drummer/keyboardist Benjamin Weikel received a call alerting them that their entire studio space had been destroyed by a flood. With only the equipment they brought on tour, as well as whatever was stored high enough to avoid damage, the band had to start from scratch. Moving into a less constrictive space, the band decided to ditch their digital methods of recording and take a turn towards vintage gear, creating the warm, deep sound found on Negotiations.
In addition to the change in production quality, there is another factor that sets Negotiations apart from past Helio Sequence album — a lack of anxiety. Maybe the band counted their blessings after turning the negative of a disaster into a positive revamp of their sound. Or perhaps four studio albums was enough to allow the duo to grow more confident and relaxed in their abilities. Whatever it was, there is a much more crisp and dynamic approach to songwriting on Negotiations, both in composition and lyrical content. As such, there is no standout single on the album. Instead, The Helio Sequence create several brooding soundscapes that maintain a consistent groove while diving into sonic nirvana.
This time around, Summers’ lyrics take a definite turn away from concrete storytelling and toward a more poetic, nondescript approach. While this approach is not always favorable, when combined with the sonic layers of Negotations, it works remarkably well. All 11 songs are expertly crafted and reward repeat listens. The Helio Sequence’s well-crafted indie-rock somehow slips under the radar each time they offer up something new, but on Negotiations, it’s reassuring to hear the Portland duo taking a direction that remains familiar while continuing down their own unique path.
Stream: The Helio Sequence – “October”