I get CDs all the time from unsigned bands who have pooled all their resources to put out their own records. Most of the time, the results are quite predictable—poor sound and material that needs more work. So imagine my surprise when the opening chords of “The Crowd Appears” came blasting out of my stereo, and I suddenly felt a bit like the way those lucky punters must have felt standing around the beer-sodden pubs of 1977 London listening to a young Woking band, who married soulful mod pop to punk fury—The Jam.
Helium Angel are a young mod band from San Francisco, so correctly mod in fact, that they thank their local Vespa Club and their scooter suppliers in the liner notes. The influences are all right too—The Jam, The Who, The Small Faces. But like the Small Faces before them, Helium Angel clearly dig psychedelia too, though theirs seem to come mainly from the Byrd’s “Eight Miles High” school.
As the album wears on, you realize there’s not a lot of fury here, but then Helium Angel aren’t playing in the shadow of Thatcherism and the Sex Pistols either. There is plenty of self-assured, catchy and crunchy power pop (yes, crunchy can be good), played with the confidence and ability only earned through generous amounts of practice, live playing and, dammit, heart. The punkiest song on the block is “When the Plane Touched Down,” about equal parts Who and Buzzcocks. Here and there, Keith Moon-style drums surface, but then so do Beatlesque harmonies, and a slashing Pete Townshend-ish rhythm guitar. I bet these guys have done a few windmills on their guitars—at least in front of their mirrors. It all adds up to an exciting debut, that while it could use a bit more variety, clearly sets them up for a killer effort next time around.