Record Review: Helios Caesura

What follows is the review of Caesura by Helios, which is up on The Silent Ballet (the site I write for). I’m posting this here in the hopes of getting more folks who know me, but not the site, to read this review of possibly my favorite album of 2008 and check out the site. It’s a good resource for instrumental, experimental and electronic music styles if you’d like to broaden your knowledge base or horizons. Enjoy!

Word is going around town that this is one of the most colorful, vibrant Seattle Autumns in a half century. A proliferation of maples and other deciduous trees, coupled with a slow petering out of Summer, have created a truly polychromatic Autumn here. The time to sit under the blankets with a bowl of soup and a good record is quickly unfolding. And with the arrival of Keith Kennif’s newest release under his Helios appellation, we have the soundtrack to these ever-brisker days in Caesura.
There is something to be said for the timing of a release, because Caesura truly is the music of Autumn. The notes descend like orange-green maple leaves, falling gently back and forth on minimalist brushes of an invisible breeze—what I like to envision as the breath of the heavens making slow change. A change that is guarded from the observer’s naked eye underneath soft layers of fog, rain and the warm anticipation of snow around the corner of a cold, still, starlit night. A perfect example of this feeling would be the way the guitar slips quietly in the front door of “Fourteen Drawings.” Yet, through all this, there is also an emergent sense of a sun-soaked morning after dark for days on end. This modality of change can be seen in Kennif’s mastery of dynamics. With a careful, purposeful musical mind he quietly pushes different elements (i.e. drums, guitar) to your attention, while maintaining fluidity worthy of a great river. The elements he wants you to pay attention to ebb and flow like Autumnal shifts in color and light that are only noticeable over the passage of time.
While Caesura might be the music of Autumn, it is simultaneously the music of movement and the slowing of blurred surroundings until you can make out the details from afar. I sit here writing this with the feeling that I will glean additional emotional timbre and enjoyment from this album while riding my bike through one of these crystalline Fall days as it is swallowed by darkness. Even the progression of the album, from track to track, goes from light to dark with the more ponderous electric guitar line of “Mima” (just while I’m thinking about it, the acoustic guitar of that song has the same saccharine and sadness of Grouper’s newest album).
In keeping with the theme of slow, barely discernible change, I would like you to meditate on my next thought while you listen to the album. Kennif’s style as Helios hasn’t ambled far from Eingya or Unomia, but I can’t complain as it almost seems perfect in the space it occupies. Taking in the scope of all three records to inform where Caesura ends up, I think of a satellite with its predestined orbit that is still capable of new findings. To better illustrate my point, “Fourteen Drawings” is an emotional parallel or cousin to “Halving The Compass.” But this is not to say that Kennif is running out of ideas, rather perfecting closer studies of the emotional range he’d like to represent in his music. With “Fourteen Drawings” tears edge their way to the corners of my eyes like the first time I met my youngest niece; the song’s sense of viridity is pressing in its blunt honesty. “Glimpse” can also be seen as a parallel to the past. It is a marriage of the hopeful seeking of love from afar with the immediacy of an initial graze of hands that feel the urgency to touch, but the hesitancy of moving too fast. To me, this directly shares a tenor of fascination with many of the songs on Four Tet’s album Pause.
Nevertheless, Kennif has made some significant strides in his guitar playing, even though he’s still no Hendrix, and skills on a trap set. What further sets off his progress on the drums is the interplay between live drums and use of tiny, compressed (usually programmed) drum tracks. “Backlight” has a luscious heaviness to it with drums up-front and personal set to a backdrop of keyboard drones washing heavily away in the background. Then, to close it out, the programmed rhythm track is imitative of quick inhalations of reverse cymbals that pull the drums back into the dark. The heaviness of “Backlight” is evocative of a dream moving from uncontrollable to lucidity; the reassurance that not all is out of control. Closing out the transitions of the album, “Hollie” ends in a swirl of chimes ill-concerned with timing that engulf the cardiac rhythm of the drums.
So, what truly sets this album apart from his previous efforts is, firstly, his ability to perform much more in-depth studies of the emotional range he wants to portray, which I have already identified. Second, is his Escher-esque power to illustrate difference within pattern and similarity. Through the first 3 listens of Caesura, I felt that seeing some of the songs performed at Decibel Festival afforded me a more present, tactile feel to the album. However, I have to say that, now into the fifteenth listen, I feel a sense of familiarity directly coupled with a very foreign feel. The slow, Autumnal decay of sound and resonance into the negative space of silence and pause create a wonderful, paradoxical love for this album. This is a rare album, simply due to its majesty.

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