[21 April 2008]
Two years ago, the Northwest duo of Jason Albertini and Canaan Dove Amber left Duster to form Helvetia. Their first album The Clever North Wind was a pure slept-on pleasure, dreamy, fuzzy and math-poppish, as the two draped difficult time signatures in pillow-y clouds of guitar feedback. Now they’re back with a far more focused, wider-awake follow-up, The Acrobats, which brings all the accessible elements of their work to the foreground and downplays the more difficult parts. The title track, for instance, drifts along sunnily, syncopated drums slipping in and out of sync with droning keyboard melodies, words spaced widely to frame fleeting, evocative images. “The Acrobat” sounds very much like a keyboard-centric Yo La Tengo cut, its experimental edge softened and sweetened so that you hardly hear it at all. Later, on “Harbored” and “Blasting Carolina”, Helvetia enlists the guitar distorting assistance of Brett Nelson and Mike Johnson. Johnson you might know as Dinosaur Jr.‘s early 1990s bass player, while Nelson has played with Built to Spill and his own drone-and-furze heavy Caustic Resin. These two add a bit of heft to the album’s mid-section, yet its basic tone is delicate, wispy enough to let Albertini’s weathered, lo-fi murmurs up through the fog. With “The Fever”, he is pitched just above a whisper. His voice almost tickles the hairs in your ear, as it rises, just barely, above the Beatles-jaunty keyboards. Still you can hear the voice even when it’s low, and it makes up the far poppier center of The Acrobats. It’s not that Helvetia has abandoned its clever winds and haunting atmospheres, more that it has cleaned them up, like an acrobats learning to stick his landings.