The Helio Sequence – Negotiations (album) (Sub Pop)

Last month electronic/folk/indie rock act the Helio Sequence introduced to the world their first track since 2008’s ‘Keep Your Eyes Ahead’ in the form of the track ‘October’ (click here to read the review), which was offered free via the Sub Pop website.

‘Negotiations’ is the Oregon duo’s fifth album and it’s clearly evident that their time spent playing bigger venues supporting Keane on their U.S. tour in 2009 has rubbed off both in terms of the writing and sound of this record (listen to Keane’s “My Shadow”).

Featuring a top-notch production helped by a generous use of reverb to create an ever expansive sound, ‘Negotiations’ is the band’s most polished work to date. Each track builds gently, adding in increments layers of sweeping atmospheric sounds, slowly wrapping the listener up in its embrace.

Much darker than anything the duo have done previously, the overall mood of ‘Negotiations’ is a melancholy and reflective one, at times even bleak and dreary. The “fun” and quirky electronic side found on previous efforts is noticeably absent, as are the nu-folk characteristics (and their accompanying political lyrics) and instead the band explore lush, atmospheric, and darker electronic soundscapes.

‘Negotiations’ opens with “One More Time” beginning with a tight, groove-inflected beat by drummer/keyboardist, Benjamin Weikel. Layers of warm synthesizers and a bed of rhythmic indie guitars soon follow. Combined with the song’s heavy 50’s influenced chord progressions and vocal melodies, “One More Time” calls to mind the mellower material of The Vaccines (think ‘Wetsuit’).

When played back to back with the album’s opening track, the previously noted 50’s influence also becomes evident in the single “October”. Lush and atmospheric, “October” exudes a sense of nostalgia as well as the duo’s brilliant songwriting skills combining pop sensibilities and epic, sound exploration.

Throughout the entire record, the vocals of Brandon Summers (vocals/guitars) are simply sublime and compliment the songs atmospherics perfectly.

Beginning with a Café del Mar style chill- out keyboard arpeggio, “Downward Spiral” quickly develops into a sombre affair and is reminiscent in mood and production to the down-tempo material that dominated King of Leon’s ‘Come Around Sundown’ (hear ‘Pyro’). The sub-bass notes that run throughout the track only add to the density of the song’s heavy lyrical content.

At various times throughout the album elements of The Boxer Rebellion can be heard in mood and vocal tone but no more than on the brilliant “Hall of Mirrors”.  “When the Shadow Falls” is the likely next single being the most up-tempo and immediate track complete with a massive radio-read chorus, while still maintaining the album’s overall mood and aesthetic. “Silence on Silence” is another solid track exhibiting an Arctic Monkeys ‘Suck It And See’ type vibe.

Acoustic guitars are introduced in “Harvester of Souls” and “December” with the former exhibiting Nick Drake-esque qualities. Driven by an acoustic guitar and vocal and combined with a heavily reverberated production and hushed synth atmospherics, the ambience created in these two tracks is incredible.

An extremely strong and consistent body of work, ‘Negotiations’ is not a collection of singles strung together but instead an album needs to be experienced in its entirety.

‘Negotiations’ is available 11 September 2012. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the first 500 to pre-order the CD or Vinyl edition via Sub Pop, you’ll receive a limited edition CD called ‘Aces’ that the band created to be played in tandem with ‘Negotiations’ as a listening experience-enhancing piece. Pre-order the album from Sub Pop now.

Watch the trailer for the album below.