I’m pretty late to the review parade on this, no doubt, but gimme a break, I’ve been at this for two weeks. And this sucker deserves all the praise it can get, so whether it needs another review or not, it’s getting one.
Helios is one of the projects of Keith Kenniff, a versatile sort who also releases music under the names Goldmund (hey, what about Narziss?) and Mint Julep. The Helios discography appears to have five albums, including, I see, a new one that I should pick up! Whee! I’ve got the previous ones. Now, this stuff is all pretty good (Caesura is second best), but let’s just say there are times in a musician’s career when for some reason or other, he or she just strikes artistic gold. The planets align or he desists from squashing a spider and the gods smile on him. This allows the production of perfection, a lightning bolt of inspiration that takes the mortal and makes him a bit more than that. Then he comes crashing down, no doubt.
Anyway, Kenniff’s moment of glory (I’m not saying he won’t have another, mind you) is Eingya.
This particular combination of ambient textures, blatantly pretty fragments of melody, chiming pianos and guitars both acoustic and electric, and understated but groovy beats runs the risk of being super-cheesy in the wrong hands (and in some it is). But Helios gets it just right. In particular, he is the master of moving those bass notes underneath repetitive guitar or piano parts (the U2 effect), the same technique used by sensitive rock bands since the 80s to beef up their choruses.
Opener “Bless this Morning Year” is one of the finest album openers I’ve heard, a dramatic build-up that takes up to the third minute to burst forth into a beauteous melody, all underscored by a stately beat. “Halving the Compass” features some beautiful field recordings (birdies, of course), another dignified thumpy beat and the aforementioned guitar and piano chiming. The effect is sublime.
“Vargtimme” and “First Dream Called Ocean” are very close to pure ambient, waves of soft sound that soothe and caress while making you feel a little bit miserable contemplating life’s fragility. Damn it. “For Years and Years” aches with reverby piano and a lazy, sad, profound melody before concluding with an uplifting coda of piano and synth. I’m running out of adjectives. “Coast Off” features a sample of what sounds like a Bulgarian vocal ensemble.
So this is all incredibly beautiful. But the pièce de résistance is the album’s closer, “Emancipation”, a super simple, delicate electric guitar piece…clean sound, just some ‘verb and a little delay, a touch of synth in the background. This one just makes you ache, frankly. You want it to keep going but the damn thing is only 2 and half minutes. Honestly, could he not have made it like, 10 or something? When it’s done you feel kind of horrible but satisfied, like yeah, we’re all gonna die, but it’s beautiful, maaaaan. You know what I mean – this is the effect that all great emotional music has on us.
In conclusion, yeah I’m late talking about this. You had this right when it came out and you’re cooler than me. I can live with that. But if you haven’t heard this album, GET IT.