Negotiations by Helio Sequence (Sub Pop, 2012. 40 minutes)
The Helio Sequence is an American alternative rock duo from Beaverton, Oregon, signed to Sub Pop. The band was formed in 1999 and consists of Brandon Summers on vocals and guitars and Benjamin Weikel on drums and keyboards.
Glad I Missed It
The year was 2004, and as a young, naïve college freshman, I was going to take a road trip to Portland, OR to hear Helio Sequence live for the first time. I had a friend that invited me to go, and I had never heard of them. Brandon Summers, however, had lost his voice, and decided to cancel the tour. I was bummed, sure, but from what I heard it was probably a good thing I didn’t hear the band then. From what I heard, they weren’t that good.
Summers took the time to get healthy, and then released an album of theirs I actually purchased, listened to, and loved, Keep Your Eyes Ahead. It contained some of the best music making, some of the best vocal sounds, and some of the best melodies I’ve heard from an indie-pop duo. The love story began, and I managed to actually see them at an anniversary party at a local venue for free.
Two Is Better
Much like their previous record, Negotiations is a wonderful depiction of what a duo can do musically. Sonically, you couldn’t tell that it was a band of merely two people without looking at the liner notes. Perhaps the best thing about the album overall is that unlike most pop tunes of today, Summers and Weikel try to let the music speak, even sing, for itself without trying to beat you over the head with over-ly catchy lyrics. Moreover, each song always has a surprise in it.
Take the song “Downward Spiral” as an example of a surprise. In the first two measures of the song, a keyboard plays a minor melody, setting the listener up for a supposedly melancholy listening experience. However, soon after, the drums come in with an ear-jarring, yet exciting, groove imploring the listener to enjoy the compositional trickiness of the band.
“It’s so hard to watch you see / Waning now for the n-teenth time Like a slow motion train wreck / Happening now in double-time Raising up and then we see / It’s never so bad no it’s never no And then we see it’s never so bad”
Taking a page out of Bob Dylan’s lyrical writing techniques (note, Summers actually sings well, however), Helio Sequence has a wistful quality to their songs, perhaps shown the best in the opening jingle-bell prominent track “One More Time”. The song, like so many others on the album, is catchy, eloquent, and thoughtful.
“Hey now draw yourself more near to me / Rest your weary mind bend your will to the light Lay down all those things you fear to be / What you may become truth for everyone I won’t wait for you to run down that hall with anyone / Rest yourself easy begging hey now please… I know things you left and said undone /are heavy on your heart true for everyone”
“One More Time” blends seamlessly into the next track, their single “October” which blends the erudite and emotional lyrics previously mentioned with hard hitting drums in characteristic sub-pop fashion.
Similarly, the track “Open Letter”, an intentional drum track highlights the beauty of the lyrics overhead, with sweeping swells from the guitars and synth accentuate delightfully.
“How could I not see you were waiting for an answer from me? How could I believe you were honest in what you said? Where will you go now there is nothing that is further reaching? Draw the line between what you want and what you need.
Where is your sense? Where is your sense of wrong?”
I’ve spent a lot of time on the beginning of the album, and one track towards the end, but rest assured, every track on this album has equal merit. It’s been a long time since I could listen to an album in its entirety, and love every note, every hit, every string plucked, and every lyric. In short, Negotiations is simply brilliantly wrought. Get it now; it will be a lifelong companion to be certain.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
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