Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Caesura - Helios


Type Records.

SCQ Rating: 83%

The first time I heard Helios was scattered across several minute-long audio samples – each of which were stunning slices of laid-back electronica – that I immediately sought to own. When I finally possessed Eingya some year and a half on and experienced my familiar samples in full-length version, a piece of my anticipation went unfulfilled. There I was, looking forward to at last hearing the patient build-up to those climax-snippets I’d committed to memory only to discover that Eingya, as a whole, is one giant climax. Every guitar was bittersweet, each touch of keyboard pitch-perfect and expertly produced; if those minute-long snippets were sugar to my electro-senses, Eingya risked landing me in a diabetic coma.

Caesura is a better record, not only as a result of my cautiously lowered expectations but because I can easily digest the entire album without feeling cynical or nauseous. Now this isn’t to imply that Helios-mastermind Keith Kenniff has learned from his ‘perfection to a fault’ recording process; in fact, Caesura features as much technical showing-off as his previous album. Only this time, Kenniff shows off how to craft an album while continuing to wow with his laptop-based post-rock. Despite the opening shuffle, a nostalgic mix of starry guitar and understated percussion similar to Eingya’s starting point, ‘Hope Valley Hill’ puts the past where it belongs with a finale of soft momentum and barely-there vocals. Tracks like ‘Mima’ and ‘Fourteen Drawings’ (the latter sounding like Ulrich Schnauss in slow motion) are eloquent compositions grounded in dense patterns of guitars and/or keys that never steal the show or surrendering to new-age mysticism. Not only does Kenniff reduce his number of compositional peaks while giving each space, he propels plateau songs like ‘Backlight’ with warped breakbeats or ‘Come With Nothings’ with its sped-up metronome. When a true climax does arrive in ‘A Mountain of Ice’, Kenniff throws the mix in favour of prominent guitar and distant vocals that nearly change the temperature of your living room. The way Helios organizes and performs this material makes Eingya feel scattershot by comparison.

Although Caesura holds more tension and increasingly complex layers, this is still a predominantly one-note affair. Such is the reality when you prepare for a new Helios album; the silent understanding that you’ll be receiving as much icing as cake. Luckily, Kenniff seems progressively more comfortable with the notion of letting his songs affect in their own way, providing pathways to choose from instead of emotional directions. Caesura is still massively emotive, no doubt, but slyly elusive. It’s as if Kenniff knows that the best way to break a listener’s heart isn’t always by hunting it down but, instead, creating something worth surrendering one’s heart to.

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