Helm Olympic Mess

[PAN; 2015]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: dark ambient, noise, hypnagogic pop, industrial
Others: Dalhous, Growing, Excepter, Tim Hecker, Third Eye Foundation

For going on 10 years, Luke Younger’s Helm has been a reliable source of unequivocal natural state alteration. As ever, the project is a winner off the bat for producing material where no one track resembles the other. Olympic Mess raises the bar, however, in a fashion set off by the invitingly tactile, yet nevertheless challenging work of the past three years (mostly for the unstoppable PAN label). From 2012’s Impossible Symmetry and the Silencer/The Hollow Organ EPs to this new full-length, Younger’s intricate dioramas have become more and more refined. Despite their pawing, grimy malingering, these torrid escapades throw the listener into a state of giddily heightened subterranean suspense.

Opener “Don’t Lick The Jacket” is not a cover of an obscure David Lee Roth jam, but a phased-synth, half-jammed-up assembly-line statement of purposelessness, set to slink things off past the motion-detector lights. It’s then that the alternate Cruising soundtrack/laserprinter boogie of “I Exist In A Fog” struts miraculously into view, almost getting the party started in a demented, deep-dark-salvia-well fashion. Four minutes in, though, the rhythm decelerates, and the party is bathed in the massive floodlight of minor drone figures, like a static encirclement of apathetic UFOs. Desolation abounds on this record, but it’s the sort of desolation that one holds close to their heart and therefore conveyed with the appropriate tact and imagination. In this way, the experience is not unlike the ubiquitous sad song of our suddenly violently sentimental lives. It is an atmosphere we cling to almost as much as, if not more than, melodic and/or lyrical hooks. Helm wields atmospheres that infect not necessarily like “Take My Breath Away,” but like those snippets on Skinny Puppy or Front 242 records that stood out as better than the songs they decorated. Despite containing actual head-nodding rhythms, Olympic Mess is as gloriously unwieldy as its title suggests. But it is imbued with an observation deck-like safe distance, making the weight feel as natural as the gravity we faithfully take for granted.

The abstract Crowded House guitar angling closing out “Outerzone 2015” is one of many (but not too many) new and surprising wrinkles. The Helm album is still an Amazon-dense, hale-hearted, outer-limit roving affair. But now it’s got a fizzy, ethereal pep in its step with a hearty helping of submerged-yet-insistent pulses and sparse, Aphex-tinged (particularly on the title track) melodic hooks throughout. Advancements of this kind can be a drain of contrived commercial aims drowning out the muse, but in this case, the listener is blessed with concise artistic statements that wear their occasional pop appeal in a restrained and quixotically curatorial fashion. As with Prurient’s recent tiltings out of the shadows, this lopsided platter of dubious occurrence takes its new light and tints it a deep, satiny shade of violet.

The somber, GAME OVER-redolent feedback loop of “Sky Wax (London)” contains some rummagey field recording, and there is something vaguely purposeful and maybe a little sinister in its ostensibly aimless puttering. One might get a little more creeped out, however, at the mysterious whispered monologue and muted under-the-bridge traffic sounds of the next track. Tagged “Strawberry Chapstick,” the track would typically be the obvious album closer, designed to leave the unsuspecting listener a bit spooked, but it’s instead a perfectly placed anomaly for the album’s last third. With its semi, casual job interview rehearsal-quality intrigue, it’s like the innocuous cousin to this sleep troubler from 1996 (starts at 6:58). But the guy is whispering, so it retains an air of mystery on an album that is relentlessly courting it. While there isn’t the staggering gauntlet being thrown of a Miseri Lares or any given Lescalleet record, Olympic Mess is nonetheless an exceptional listen. And rather than spooked, it leaves us — by way of the rainy industrial park haunt that is “Sky Wax (NYC)” — in a quiet sort of devastation.

Links: Helm - PAN

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