The Helio Sequence: Sunshine Supermen Sparkle Plenty

What can I say about this new album by Portland's fine indie band The Helio Sequence? It is a fine continuation of the sort of rock-driven melodic progressive pop music that the band has been making pretty much all along. It is mixed a bit more upfront and direct than the last album -- Negotiations, which I loved -- and has a great drum sound that underscores the duo-nature of this band.

AR-HelioSequenceLPcover225.jpgThis is one of those modern groups where the main members are the singer / guitarist and the drummer, so you know the drums are going to sound big.

Worry, not there are plenty of other instruments on the album (basses! synths!)

But really, at the end of this day this is about a band that writes songs... and they write good songs. And they seem to produce good albums that sound good.

End of review, right?

Well, not quite. You may be wondering if this good sounding album of good songs is a purely analog recording? I kinda doubt it. But -- like their other recordings -- this new album has a warm and inviting sound that makes the source details a bit moot to this listener.

It sounds good, and the songs are real good. I'm repeating myself here...

Perhaps the mastering by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound has something to do with it. That alone says a lot about the band and its label for spending the extra $$ on premium mastering to deliver a fine sounding record.

AR-HelioSequenceCDSleeve225.jpgNow, this album also has some interesting things going on musically in that some of the songs distinctly remind me other other bands, almost as if the band was consciously doing an homage. "Inconsequential Ties" on side two reminds me somehow of a late period Moody Blues tune. "Stoic Resemblance" echos the kind of booty shaking rock groove Beck might have done some years back. "Battle Lines" sounds like a lost U2 outtake. "Red Shifting" sounds like Beck singing a Moody Blues tune circa A Question of Balance.

Hmm.....

"Phantom Shore" cops its phrasing from The Byrds "So You Wanna Be A Rock "n Roll Star" and puts it through a Joy Division / Echo & The Bunnymen blender.

Interestingly, it turns out that this sixth album by the band apparently grew out of an idea by friends of the band who were trying to write 20 songs in one day. According to the liner notes on the bonus CD called Sunrise Demos, which fans like me who pre-ordered from the band's website got for free as part of the package: "The goal is to give up the second-guessing and over thinking that can stifle creativity, to break free of inhibitions and run with momentum."

The band gave itself a month to do just that and then gave the demos to 31 friends who voted on their favorites. Those 10 winners are on the new album. The rest of the tracks are on the bonus disc of demos (in various stages of completion, many sounding like finished album tracks).

Cool beans, eh?

AR-HelioSequenceLPInnersleeveArt225.jpgIn retrospect, that sort of loose approach to writing the songs might explain some of the homage-y nature of some of the tunes. Rather than whittle it down or try to expand on the rather massive sound the band achieved on Negotiations, they just wrote a bunch of songs and laid them down rather quickly. So, the catchiest tunes made the final cut for the album and inevitably, given the short writing cycle, there would be some homage going on.

Don't know why I'm dwelling on this quite so much but I guess I thought you should know this. It has nothing to do with whether the album is good or bad or not. And this is purely my perception; your experience may vary, as they say on late night TV commercials.

One last one: "Illusions" on the Sunshine Demos is kinda how I would like Interpol to sound, a bit slower and more ambient with some harmonies tossed in for good measure.

You see.... I rather like that The Helio Sequence have been able to pull of some homage while maintaining their own identity.

Oh, I should tell you that if you hurry and look for copies of the album that are marked "Loser Edition" you should get the album pressed on gorgeous milky egg yolk sunshine yellow vinyl. The pressing is thick and well centered and sounds just great.

I really hope this band continues its fine trajectory. Really looking forward to seeing them this Summer.

How 'bout that? A genuine Summer album by a band touring in the Summer. Kinda like old times.

"Broken Pieces" sounds sort of like if Cocteau Twins had Neil Tennant as lead singer.....

Ok, I'll stop playing the "spot the influence" game now.

Go pick up this new Helio Sequence album. Its a welcome ray of sunshine for your turntable.

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