The Helio Sequence, Negotiations

The Helio Sequence, <i>Negotiations</i>

It’s hard to overvalue the role of Sub Pop in developing my musical tastes. Whether it was Sunny Day Real Estate’s How It Feels to Be Something On or Washed Out’s Within and Without, my musical journey is lined with more than a few Sub Pop milestones.

Yet, despite my affection for the label they’re on, Oregon’s The Helio Sequence has never piqued my interest. Now, five albums in, I finally get around to exploring what the band has to offer. Can Negotiations join the likes of Bleach and Fleet Foxes as yet another Sub Pop musical marker?

For The Helio Sequence, dream-pop means a heavy dose of guitar reverb, ambient synths, and a tight, punchy drum track. This musical direction means that Negotations is an open and ethereal album filled with songs more suited for concert halls than music clubs. The drive to create a more open sound is apparent in “One More Time” — four bars of drum beats evolve into something far more vibrant as The Helio Sequence quickly layer on various tones. Whether it’s the handclaps, reverberation guitar, or sleigh bells, The Helio Sequence strives to fill each room with as much sound as possible.

Over this grandiose musical production is Brandon Summers’ crooning vocals. Not only does Summers’ voice resemble Torquil Campbell’s timbre, but his verses also evokes a sense of composed longing. Through it all, The Helio Sequence displays a keen ear for balance, as Summers never gets lost in the musical mist nor does his vocals disrupt the atmosphere that the music creates.

“Downward Spiral” continues the musical theme of “start simple and then amplify,” but does so with greater success. What begins as a simple repeating keyboard melody quickly swells and swirls, as guitar tracks featuring noisy riffs, echoing plucking, and grating effects are added.

At the midpoint, there’s a calmer turn in Negotiations, with “Harvester of Souls,” a quiet, almost shy song of resentment over being misled. Unfortunately, it’s at this midpoint where you realize Negotiations is a relatively homogenous and formulaic album, and the second half of the album becomes indistinguishable from the first.

In the context of Negotiations as a whole, well-crafted songs like “Silence on Silence” begin to sound uninteresting during a straight play-through. Granted, this kind of uniformity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, this is the band’s sixth album, and the talent is clearly on display.

When it’s over, though, you’re just left wondering what else could be done, or what The Helio Sequence could do if the band members took a chance. Perhaps it’s too much to ask for an established band to take a risk. For newcomers to the band, however, Negotations makes for a pleasant but ultimately conventional experience.

(Feature photo by Pavlina Summers.)

[The Helios Sequence is playing 1/15/13 at Walter’s, along with Young Girls & Showers.]
(Sub Pop Records -- 2013 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA. 98121;; The Helio Sequence --; The Helio Sequence (Facebook) --
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Review by . Review posted Monday, January 14th, 2013. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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