THE HELIO SEQUENCE – Keep Your Eyes Ahead (2008)

The Helio Sequence - Keep your Eyes Ahead There’s a fair dose of melancholy on display in Keep Your Eyes Ahead, the latest album from Portland’s The Helio Sequence, a band who specialize in a tricky amalgamation of pop, rock and electronica. Their last album, 2004’s Love and Distance towed a similar line, musically speaking, but the songs there were warmer and more open (not in the least because of the album’s use of harmonica – is there any instrument that conveys warmth more immediately in rock music than the harmonica?). This isn’t to say that Keep Your Eyes Ahead is cold by comparison (it isn’t), it just feels a little less inviting in the music department than its predecessor, a trait which works surprisingly well to the album’s advantage. The songs here are just as relaxed as on Love and Distance, but here, we get a sense that the music is much more expansive than it’s letting on, lurking just beyond any horizon we might perceive.

I hope I’m not misrepresenting myself here, because Keep Your Eyes Ahead is quite a good album. Like all skilled pop ensembles, The Helio Sequence wear their heartache on their sleeve without apology, but this is where the pop similarities end. Whereas most pop is content to ride out its emotional misgivings on the tried-but-true 3 minute verse-chorus-verse-chorus format (a strategy that is certainly not without its merits), The Helio Sequence take a different approach to things, providing their songs either with a total reprieve of the pop formula, or sufficient breathing room therein. The end result of this is that the album often leads to moments of glistening, unexpected beauty.

Though songs like You Can Come To Me and the title track, Keep Your Eyes Ahead, each have their moments of electro-pop glory, the best example of this comes near the close of the album with Hallelujah (a song that begins innocuously before taking off on a shimmering geyser of pop bliss in its final minutes). Hallelujah is definitely the best song on the album; it’s a joy to listen to, and the “why won’t you call me?” lyrical content is temporarily set aside for some theological ruminations. And even when the band are moping about in their sorrow, as they do on the opening song, Lately (whose chorus is: “I’m living alone, living alone/I don’t need you anymore”), it’s alright, because the music in the song is as vast as the sadness the band purportedly feel.

It’s true that the lyrical content is the weak link here; I hate to harp on lyrics so much here, but they’re really the only thing to criticize here, as the band make offer no musical conceits whatsoever. And even in the realm of lyrics, phrases like “You can run run run/But you can’t escape” (You Can Come To Me) and “But it always, comes back to this/yes it always, comes back to this” (the aptly titled Back To This) might make some cringe, but they’re certainly not unforgivable. And because the band utilize reverb and multi-tracking heavily, the lyrics aren’t a focal point for much of the album anyways (as much of the vocals of the album are buried in the mix). Really the only time the lyrics are exposed are when the band venture outside the electro-pop-rock style. This doesn’t happen often on the album, so when they do, it’s a nice change of pace. Songs like Shed Your Love and Broken Afternoon showcase the band’s takes on folk and alt-country, respectively, and in both cases, they succeed admirably.

Keep Your Eyes Ahead closes with No Regrets, an all-too-brief slice of murky americana. Perhaps it’s fitting that only in this song minute and a half song do the band bust out the harmonica that was so prevalent on the last release and so conspicuously absent here. At present, I’m not sure how well Keep Your Eyes Ahead stands up to Love and Distance, but I do know that while I appreciated what was presented here, that harmonica closing the album made me think of what could have been. You can take that any number of ways. I’m taking it as a 7.5.

HD RATING: 7.5/10

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One Response to “THE HELIO SEQUENCE – Keep Your Eyes Ahead (2008)”

  1. […] say got for it. Both bands have yet to make it big, and both deserve to. The Helio Sequence’s last album has grown on me considerably since I reviewed it here, and I’m anxiously awaiting Mines, the […]

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