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Four years ago, on a cold, stark night train somewhere between London and Glasgow, I was slowly, tearfully making my way through a playlist. It was made for me by a friend in advance of my move to Scotland for a semester abroad. As the first notes of The Helio Sequence‘s “Lately” rushed forth, I was enveloped in a bittersweet combination of overwhelming melancholy and immense hope.
While new to me, that feeling was undoubtedly one that Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel were acutely aware of when creating their breakout album Keep Your Eyes Ahead; every song on the album intensely manifested that same emotive quality. That record would become the soundtrack for the six months I spent wavering on the cusp of rain-induced depression and a seemingly endless series of pivotal, self-defining experiences. Perhaps there is something about the way soggy climates make certain types of music absorb you–a phenomenon the Oregon-based duo would understand–that made me love their sound so much.
Keep Your Eyes Ahead elicited such a sense of nostalgia for me that listening to it once I was home just didn’t seem right. Once stateside again, I packed The Helio Sequence away with my wool sweaters, Wellies, and more memories than any photo album could contain.
I came to love that album as a transitional piece, so it is only fitting that now–in my post-graduate mid-twenties transitional agony–the music gods would give me yet another Helio Sequence record to score the storm. Summers’ signature subtly forceful vocals open the track “October” in quintessential Helio Sequence form before escalating into a landscape of arrangements much more lush than those heard on any of their four previous releases. The richness created by their newfound love of looping and layering, draped in reverb, is a refreshing example of a band maturing rather than reinventing. Lyrically, the song holds fast to the borderline blasé yet somehow still sentimental, yearning quality of their previous efforts (because lyrical ambivalence is essential for any transitional album).
After a four-year gap between records, I wasn’t sure how the duo’s fifth release, Negotiations (out September 11 on Sub Pop), would posit itself in today’s musical environment. However, the sprawling anthemic fervor of “October” shows that The Helio Sequence is back and more dynamic than ever. The Helio Sequence has made a transitional album for themselves and being in flux hasn’t sounded this good in a long time.