The Helio Sequence return to the fore with Negotiations, their first outing since 2008’s critically acclaimed Keep Your Eyes Ahead.
*Note: This is an old album review found in my archives. Unfortunately I can’t remember where it was originally published.*
Swelling with emotion and thick with a rich, warm atmosphere, the 11 tracks of shimmering indie folk which make up this latest release may well represent Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel’s most accomplished work to date.
Though not necessarily their most enjoyable.
It’s been a turbulent ride for the Portland, Oregon. Whether it’s Summers ripping vocal chords to bits back in 2004 (thanks in no small part to one too many nights spent performing tracks from bolshy and brilliant ‘04 release Love on Hold) or their entire studio/rehearsal space succumbing to flooding in ‘09, it’s fair to say that fortune has rarely smiled fondly on the duo.
Fortunately for us, such a spate of bad luck hasn’t completely dampened their spirits.
One More Time gets things underway in a fairly optimistic, if somewhat mellow, fashion; rolling drums tumbling tenderly into a lazy guitar as resonant vocals fall into a relaxed rhythm. As opening tracks go, it’s at least endearing, if it not particularly exciting.
Thankfully, October skips to the rescue as sparse, sparkling guitars splash happily over a buoyant beat, sweeping the whole thing along into a sound as lively and uptempo as Negotiations ever gets and persuading feet to tap, heads to bob and lips to curl quietly into a welcome smile.
Things look even more hopeful as Downward Spiral continues the trend for upbeat indie and finds Summers at his most cheerful; undoubtedly perked up by playful keys which lend themselves well to an altogether charming and entertaining affair.
Sadly, that’s just about where Negotiations hits its peak.
From The Measure onwards, all the way through to the title track which brings things to a close in a manner most morbid, what we’re ultimately left with is an album which on the surface is hypnotic and, yet which on closer inspection turns out to be, well, rather dull.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the individual tracks. Taken separately, each one displays a passionate and emotional approach to crafting well-written songs laden with atmosphere.
No, the problem here is that as one such track rolls lethargically into the next, it becomes increasingly difficult to know, or care, where one song ends and another begins as the whole thing drifts pleasantly into the background like some fading daydream.
There is a brief glimmer of hope from When the Shadows Fall, with its oh-so catchy chorus and a sprinkling of ambient guitars all stepping to the fore to capture your attention, even if it is only for a fleeting moment.
Alas, as ‘Shadows fades into Silence on Silence, we’re back to the background music.
Of course, that’s not entirely a bad thing; if you’re looking for a nice, pleasant album to slap on in the background and chill out too, you could do far worse. Yet for an album in which so much energy, effort and emotion has been invested, you’d perhaps expect something a little more than ‘nice and pleasant.’
Instead, what we get is an album which, when it does manage to capture your attention, struggles to keep it, making for an accomplished if not always enjoyable listen.