Here’s my best case against the pompous crust that is known as Radiohead. I ask myself from time to time if people would actually enjoy such ridiculous albums as Amneisiac if the hype wasn’t already built in. It’s hard to imagine the band getting a bad review anymore. Or at least one that would actually resound with the masses. Ever since OK Computer was unleashed, we have been led to believe that Thom Yorke and pals are the Second Coming and are here to rightfully save rock with something completely “new” called post rock.
But how do you save rock with something so utterly pretentious?
I’m not at all against sitting down and have to actually listen to an album. I’m quite fine with that, really, as that’s how I often enjoy my music. But I’m also not into jumping on any bandwagon for a band that I find terribly boring. Why praise a group just because all the other critics can’t get enough of falling all over themselves for some music that goes farther around the bend every year? It’s funny, because I can think of a number of groups that would get blasted for trying to do the same thing. “Oh, they’re just trying to copy Radiohead”, they’d say. As if Radiohead was the be all, end all of post rock (whatever the fuck that actually is; I think it’s just a hip term for what actually became the deceased “alternative” rock). God forbid anyone else try to claim some turf in the genre as well.
Oh, but someone has, kids. So put all your new fangled blinking teddy bear heads away and take notice of The Helio Sequence from Portland, Oregon. Comprised of only Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel (I knew you didn’t need that extra guy in your post rock group to crouch on the floor pushing guitar pedals . . . yeesh), The Helio Sequence creates a brand of post crunch that Radiohead could never be bothered with: post rock with a definite beat (the horror!)
In fact, Brandon and Benjamin seem to have a little message for all the Radio fans out there. “I’m not part of your little scene / ‘Cause I don’t read your magazines / And we don’t play your fashion shows / We don’t wear your pretty clothes”. This is just a sample from the bite that explodes out of “[square] bubbles”. The music is bombastic and dense, but you can also dance to it, Dick. The drums sound larger than life, and Benjamin’s keyboards squiggle and shatter all over the mix. The Helio Sequence is all about VOLUME. So this isn’t something to weird out by and do a little navel gazing to. Brandon and Benjamin are here to shake you down.
On “Nothing’s OK : Everything’s Fine”, tripped-out pianos parts duel with scattering drum beats as the white noise wash vents in the middle, conjuring up a melody that somehow shouldn’t be there in theory, but is. “When will he have something to say? / When will he have someone to be?”, asks Weikel as the “Will you find a way / Nothing’s OK / Everything’s fine / Losing your mind / See it all rhyme” chorus pops out, injecting the dynamic hook of the song into your bloodstream. Catchy? Ah yes, something Radiohead ceased to be after The Bends.
The density of The Helio Sequence’s sound is not too unlike that of Mercury Rev’s on their first album Yerself Is Steem. So, if you remember that, then you’ll have a little idea of where this band is going, even though they are ten steps ahead of even the Rev. It’s hard to exactly pinpoint just what is going on in the mix. Summers’ guitar gets that ungodly sheet of noise thing going on that Husker Du used to employ at the drop of a hat. That, combined with Weikel’s surreal keyboard work that always finds a melody through its cacophony makes for a bizarre, yet thoroughly captivating sound. It’s the kind of thing that makes “Kablerium Vs. Obliviousity” stand out immediately, as the chants of “Workin’ 9 to 5 / Workin’ 9 to 5 / 20 hours a day” get strangled in the mix. Or are the vocals doing the strangling? Whatever the case, it’s infinitely fascinating to hear the production swirl and cave in on itself relentlessly over and over, with just a spot of light escaping through every time to start the cycle over again. Even on “lighter” fare like “The Echo-Blomp” seems to exist in a musical wind tunnel that both blasts and pulls the listener in to its furious wake.
Young Effectuals is certainly one to sit down and listen to. Doing so reveals the different threads in the mix. Just when you think you’ve “heard that song”, you can listen again and something strange and different pops out at you again, revealing the craft that went into this album. So as far as “post rock” goes for me, I’ll take The Helio Sequence any day. After all, if you’re actually going to save rock and roll, you might as well bring the beats and the guitars that can still manage to move your butt when necessary. After all, why eschew the two main ingredients for good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll when it’s time to bring it back?