Helen The Original Faces

[Kranky; 2015]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: fuzz pop, shoegaze, dream pop, lo-fi
Others: Ecstasy of St. Theresa, Aislers Set, Grass Widow, The Microphones, Psychocandy-era J&MC, The Shallows

After a promisingly superb single in 2013 and a couple teasers, the anticipation can finally subside and full-on immersion of Helen’s debut album, The Original Faces, may commence. The 12 songs here (which includes the two tracks from 2013) are a succinct 30 minutes or so, but there is a surplus of hazy intrigue to soak in. It starts, similarly to Flying Saucer Attack’s self-titled 1993 debut, with a minute or so of moldy tape dreck to weed out rockists. While the album that follows is jagged and snapshot-like, it’s hospitably roomy, ringing out with a muffled, band-next-door ambience. There are towering melodic hooks, but the primary concern here is atmosphere. And it could be said to be one of tempered, guarded nostalgia, sort of like when you walked past your friend’s cool older sibling’s room and heard strange sounds that seeped into you and upended your aesthetic sense.

The Original Faces may carry the brisk, shadowy feel of autumn, but the album also functions as a fine soundtrack to 2015’s dwindling, squinty, sweaty dog days, conjuring melted popsicle flies and elusive breezes. The simple beauty of Liz Harris’s sustained, reverb-doused vocals engage with the traditional 90s indie rock arrangements in an overtired-bordering-on-second-wind fashion. Each song (especially the epic “Dying All The Time”) calls to mind an acute yearning tamped down by mental and bodily fatigue. It’s got adorably terrible posture and pouts in a way that feels quietly celebratory. Gravity finds a faint, twitchy play on your limbs, as the emulsified elegiac rock motifs gauze you up. The experience is fleeting, but masterful enough to bear up under countless repeat listens.

In other words, Harris, Jed Bindeman (Eternal Tapestry), and Scott Simmons (as well as someone named “Helen” on backup vocals), have delivered the great noise-pop record we’d hoped for. It’s nothing new under the sun, but when taken with Harris’s other work (Grouper, et al.) and Bindeman’s contributions to Eternal Tapestry, it is a particularly striking new wrinkle in an already rich sonic palette. One could make the argument (especially after a cursory listen) that if this weren’t a project related to Grouper, Original Faces would be a decidedly less heralded affair. Even as a fan, this is hard to refute myself. I know there’s a thing about that voice, imperiously slashing through dense clouds of echo and distortion. And there’s Harris’s signature dour grandeur to it all, cutting even the most upbeat (!) of melodies. But there are enough glad hackle raising bliss-out turns here to win Harris a legion of new fans.

Sometimes you have a dream and it’s not bad. It’s not wish-fulfillment, but you feel more alive for having had it. The memory of the dream’s worth nothing, but you’ll chase the feeling all day. This album is a lot like that. A sunburned summer record slow-mo crashing into fall. An oblivion in miniature. A beachside chapel at dawn. A perfect space for a song.

Links: Kranky

Most Read