The Helio Sequence / Negotiations - SP910
Negotiations, the fifth full-length album written, recorded, and produced by The Helio Sequence, would sound different had it not been for a flood. In 2009, while touring in support of Keep Your Eyes Ahead, singer-guitarist Brandon Summers got an unexpected phone call in the middle of the night. Back home in Portland, OR, the band’s studio/practice space was under nearly a foot of water. Heavy rains had caused the building’s plumbing to overflow like a geyser. But Summers and drummer-keyboardist, Benjamin Weikel, were lucky: All of their best equipment was either on tour with them, or racked high enough off the studio floor to be spared.
Still, the band needed a new home. After three months of searching, Summers and Weikel settled into a 1500-square-foot, former breakroom-cafeteria in an old warehouse. They no longer had to work their recording schedule around loud rehearsals by neighboring bands, but were free to create late into the night in uninterrupted seclusion. With twice the square footage, the space also had room for more gear, a lot more gear. They decided to use this opportunity to try something different.
Summers and Weikel, who started playing together in 1996 and self-produced their first EP in 1999, have always been gearheads. But it wasn’t until the success of Keep Your Eyes Ahead that they could afford to step things up: The duo spent months (and many hard-earned dollars) retooling their studio. They left behind much of the cleaner-sounding modern digital studio equipment and instruments they’d always relied on, and embraced vintage gear that would color their recordings with a warmer, deeper sound: Tape and analog delays, spring and plate reverbs, tube preamps, ribbon microphones, and analog synths.
As the new studio came together, so did the songwriting. It proved to be the most spontaneous, open, and varied writing process they had ever experienced. Weikel, who was listening to minimalist/ambient composers like Roedelius and Manuel Goettsching, had created dozens of abstract synth loops of chord progressions and arpeggios. The two would put a loop on and improvise together with Summers on guitar and Weikel on drums, recording one take of each jam. Other songs like “One More Time”, “October” and “The Measure” quickly formed from rough one-minute sketches by Summers, while the down tempo “Harvester of Souls” was completely improvised musically and lyrically in a single take.
Tempering the free form approach to writing was Summers and Weikel’s meticulous attention to production and arrangement. Taking cues from the spaciousness, subtlety, and detail of Brian Eno and late-era Talk Talk records, they moved forward. Listening to the recorded live jam sessions, they set to work transforming the ditties into actual songs. “Open Letter,” “Silence on Silence”, “Downward Spiral” and the title track — some of the spacier, mesmerizing songs on Negotiations — came together in this way. Summers’ one-minute demos were brought to life in collaboration by Weikel spending weeks working on sound treatments and synth landscapes to enhance the songs.
Lyrically, Summers affirmed the improvised ethos, working deep into the night ad-libbing alone in front of the mic, abandoning pre-written lyrics and instead preferring to create in the moment. His delivery was largely inspired by the starkness and understated romanticism of Sinatra’s Capitol era “Suicide Albums”, imparting a more introspective and personal tone. “I used to view a lyric as a statement,” he says, “Now, I see it more as a letter you’re writing to yourself or a conversation with your subconscious.”
This collection of shimmering, reverb-heavy songs is a meditation on those inner dialogues (hence, Negotiations) with solitude, memory, misgivings, loss, atonement, acceptance and hope. Most of all, it’s a record that serves as a testament to the beauty, blessing, and excitement of a fresh start.
Vinyl includes an mp3 download.
If you pre-order Negotiations from SubPop.com or buy it from select retailers on CD or LP, it will come with a quadrophonic companion CD called Aces. Aces is meant to be played simultaneously with Negotiations on two different stereo systems to create an enhanced spatial experience.
Also, if you pre-order the LP from SubPop.com (or pick it up a select independent retailers), you’ll receive the Loser Edition of the record, a limited, colored-vinyl version of the record. In this case, clear with gold flecks. Both Aces and the Loser Edition are limited, so get on it!
Released: September 11, 2012
The Helio Sequence / Keep Your Eyes Ahead - SP709
After 3 albums and ten years of touring and recording, The Helio Sequence (Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel) have recorded their most dynamic, extraordinary work to date. Keep Your Eyes Ahead marries the Portland duo’s signature layered keyboards and impossibly big guitars with crisp songwriting and a newfound appreciation for minimalism. The finger picking on “Shed Your Love” is backed by exquisite strings and ambient noise, but Brandon’s serene, self-assured delivery remains front and center. While songs from the band’s early releases spanned up to 7 minutes, even the longest, lushest, catchiest track on Keep Your Eyes Ahead (fiery anthem “Hallelujah”) clocks in at 4 and a half minutes, evidence of just how refined their craft has become. Vocals were recorded spontaneously in bedroom closets and living rooms, which may explain the haunting urgency you hear in Brandon’s voice, especially on driving tracks like “Keep Your Eyes Ahead.” The band also took its time on the album. After the bulk of official recording was completed, a listen through all the demos and snippets on Brandon’s hard drive convinced Benjamin there were more gems in the rough (which is how both “Hallelujah” and “Keep Your Eyes Ahead,” as well as the mid-tempo “Back to This” were rediscovered and retooled).
Produced by the band, Keep Your Eyes Ahead confirms in The Helio Sequence an energy and a range that continues to defy narrow categorization. Unapologetic pop and folk meld seamlessly to create songs that are bigger, more epic and polished than anything they’ve ever done. Keep Your Eyes Ahead is the sound of a band and a decade-old partnership that’s been invigorated. And that’s exactly how the songs will make you feel: invigorated.
Attention! As we have mentioned from time to time here on the Sub Pop web thingy, most of the LPs that we put out come with an enclosed coupon enabling you to download all of the album’s songs as mp3s FOR FREE. The vinyl format for Keep Your Eyes Ahead, for example, includes one of these very coupons.
Released: January 29, 2008
The Helio Sequence / Love and Distance - SP633
It’s been three years since The Helio Sequence’s last album (2001’s Young Effectuals, on Portland’s Cavity Search label): far too long. Finally and triumphantly, the Portland, OR duo of Brandon Summers (guitars/vocals) and Benjamin Weikel (keyboards/drums) return with their third full-length, and first for Sub Pop, Love and Distance. The time between albums has been well-spent, logging several tours(keyboardist/drummer Benjamin Weikel also lends his percussive skills to Modest Mouse, doubling the tour time), extensive hours of experimentation and afternoons spent “listening to a lot of pop, Dylan and Can.” More inventive than ever before, the new record finds The Helio Sequence armed with a surprising new instrumentation palette and buoyed by swift pop undercurrents, with this collision of electric and organic elements. Please welcome the Helio Sequence!
Released: June 8, 2004
The Helio Sequence / Com Plex - CSR41
1. stracenska 612
2. just mary jane (calypso)
3. transistor radio
4. my heart
6. stitches sewing
7. tomorrow never knows
8. big jet sky
Released: August 15, 1974
The Helio Sequence / Young Effectuals - CSR56
2. give, give, give
3. [square] bubbles
5. the echo-blomp
6. nothing’s ok: everything’s fine
7. cut the camera
8. fall and winter/ necktie noose
9. kablerium vs. obliviousity
10. take, take, take
Released: August 15, 1974