Sometimes, the most important revelations come to us when intent is thrown to the wayside. The practice of deliberately rejecting pure deliberation is The Helio Sequence’s newest modus operandi, but it hasn’t always been.
1999’s Accelerated Slow Motion Cinema EP and 2000’s Com Plex (the former self-released and the latter on Portland’s illustrious Cavity Search label) found Helio Sequence in hot pursuit of a very specific kind of sonic perfection one steeped in amorphous, often ambient sensibilities and punctuated with ethereal, mechanical bursts of energy. The resulting linear compositions, intricately rendered from sonic threads affected by psychedelic and early 80s wall-of-sound groups, pointed towards what Helio Sequence would accomplish in 2001’s stellar Young Effectuals (also on Cavity Search). Primal in energy and futuristic in tone, the record was, at that point, the band’s neo-psych-dream swan song. “It was the pinnacle of what we were trying to achieve at that point,” explains calm-voiced vocalist/guitarist Brandon Summers matter-of-factly. After three years, several tours (keyboardist/drummer Benjamin Weikel also lends his percussive skills to Modest Mouse, doubling the tour time), extensive hours of experimentation and afternoons spent “listening to a lot of pop, Dylan and Can,” the duo has reached a totally different plane of consciousness.
Love and Distance is bright, free, and organic; a collection of refreshingly melodious songs that stand in stark contrast to the “univibe” that Summers asserts their past compositions often possessed. Summers and Weikel had been used to setting up a makeshift studio at the music store they started working at in tenth grade one room was for tracking, one for mixing. When both parties quit their jobs to tour extensively in 2002, the recording, mixing and production operation moved to Weikel’s parents’ bonus room and basement, various rooms in Summers’ apartment, and Issac Brock’s garage. “So many of the takes weren’t meant to stick,” Brandon chuckles. In the familiar, comfortable setting of family and friends’ homes, however, something happened: Helio Sequence gained an elevated level of ease that allowed them to throw caution to the wind, expanding on the complex, deep sounds they’d so masterfully crafted years earlier.
Their latest album’s strength lies not only in the soft tension created by its disparate elements, the traditional folksy twang of harmonica on “Harmonica Song”, the fresh, tropical infusions of electronica on “Looks Good (But You Looked Away)”, the passionate, precise collision of electric and organic percussion throughout, but in its natural flow. Each progression, each track, is part of a gorgeous, hooky whole. Armed with a surprising new instrumentation palette and buoyed by swift pop undercurrents, Helio Sequence finally felt able to construct their voluminous grooves using laissez-faire techniques that weren’t previously a part of their creative process. The result is a band more confident, inspired and inventive than ever before.