“I’m looking for a new direction,” Brandon Summers croons on “Battle Lines”, the opener to the new self-titled album from Oregon indie pop duo The Helio Sequence. That seeking spirit reflects the inspiration for the album as well: The duo’s friends had been playing the “20-song game,” where participants recorded 20 complete songs in a day. That “first thought, best thought” approach gives The Helio Sequence some of Summers and Benjamin Weikel’s most in-the-moment zeal, and the breezy, layered psychedelia smears by like a summer afternoon through a speeding car window.
There’s a lot of forward momentum created by attempting to record as much material as possible in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, that momentum could also be the culprit behind the fact that, other than slight variations in pacing and Summers’ falsetto, there’s not a ton to differentiate the frustrated heartbreak of “Leave or Be Yours” and the anthemic “Red Shifting”.
The fragile “Seven Hours” stands out for its relative simplicity. Aurora borealis harmonies and synths flutter softly at the background of a straightforward mix of Summers’ vocals, fingerpicked guitar, and Weikel’s propulsive snare. Closer “Never Going Back” sways like a song cut from Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, but with its edges sanded down to match its approachable, inoffensive surroundings.
The hard-charging “Upward Mobility” and hazy jump of “Stoic Resemblance” are the clear highlights, harnessing the energy and powering their interweaving layers. The former asks nervous questions through its rippling guitar and Weikel’s claustrophobic backdrop (“When you go there/ Who will you see?/ Yeah, who will you call?”). The latter, meanwhile, lets a little more air in through the screen door, but is no less anxious. “I got my redemption and I got my disease/ But now I can’t be bothered with reality,” Summers grins as the bass continues to rush ahead, just out of reach.
Releasing a self-titled album multiple records into a band’s career is often taken as a re-introduction to a new self. For The Helio Sequence, it’s a reset of the odometer rather than a definitive statement of destination.
Essential Tracks: “Stoic Resemblance”, “Upward Mobility”