Album Review: The Helio Sequence, ‘The Helio Sequence’
Perhaps the Helio Sequence frontman Brandon Summers doesn't intend for listeners to take it literally when he sings, "I'm looking for a new direction / I'm looking for another way," on "Battle Lines," the opening track on the Portland, Ore.-based duo's sixth full-length effort. Nevertheless, the decision to self-title the album is the first clue that Summers and multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Weikel envision this new set of songs as a mile marker in a career that has now stretched past a decade and a half.
After laboring to make 2012's Negotiations, an official statement from Sub Pop explains, Summers and Weikel began partaking in a creative exercise where they, along with a group of fellow Portland-based musicians, agreed to record 20 songs in one day. Naturally, the practice encouraged spontaneity, looseness and a letting-go of the urge to fuss over results. Weikel and Summers took that casual approach to heart when setting out to make the follow-up to Negotiations.
The decision had a profound effect on the duo's sound, as The Helio Sequence flows from your speakers as naturally as creek water streaming over smoothened rocks. Still, it's a testament to the depth of the pair's musical connection that, even when deciding to shrug off the usual constraints of its creative process, the finished product sounds about as far from tossed-off as it gets. Meanwhile, Weikel's production style makes for rich layers and sumptuous tones in all the songs.
Of course, the Helio Sequence's songwriting acumen and penchant for originality don't hurt. Summers and Weikel do a masterful job of incorporating touches of shoegaze and '80s synthpop in the service of inventing a completely fresh sound. Every band that contents itself with regurgitating the past should look to this album in order to learn what it means to borrow tastefully from one's musical ancestors.
But, while The Helio Sequence gives its gifts away freely -- it takes just a few seconds before you realize this music was made by a true original -- in the end, the album can't teach you how to acquire creativity and soul. You have to either be born with those things or have the sense and artistic integrity to pursue them. With this album, though, the Helio Sequence prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they possess all of the above in spades. They also make a timeless, career-defining statement.
It makes sense that they named the album after themselves, because from start to finish it plays like the fully-formed realization of an artistic vision -- the type of album bands work their entire careers to make.