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The Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead

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Artist: The Helio Sequence

Album: Keep Your Eyes Ahead

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Jan. 29, 2008

Time passes quickly, but when four years elapse between albums, there's really no telling what changes time may have wrought. Following 2004's Love and Distance, touring – and the inevitable hard living that comes with it – took their toll on The Helio Sequence’s Brandon Summers, forcing him to take a palliative vow of silence for several months. Since that spell, a revived Summers and percussionist Benjamin Weikel dug in and put their energy to work, resulting in the 10 songs on Keep Your Eyes Ahead.

It's almost a shame this album comes out in January, as it's really a top-down, summer sort of listen. The songs hover around the four-minute mark, and are economical in their implementation, with an overall sheen that does occasionally come close to overdoing it. "Can't Say No" harkens back to the ’80s, with sharp-edged guitars and effervescent keyboards over a strong beat. The title track is quite similar in its energetic spirit, pounding ahead on Weikel's propulsive drumming with Summers' chiming guitars and vocal calls.

"The Captive Mind" probably best encapsulates Helio Sequence's strengths: a steady rhythm, bubbly synths that lend a propulsive feel, and a frankly brilliant vocal hook that won't leave. Nicely buoyant guitars burst in at the right times, and the production mixes things up just enough to provide a sense of evolution from start to finish. "Hallelujah" is probably the other single here, a relentlessly upbeat song with curiously oblique lyrics.

While "Shed Your Love" and "Broken Afternoon" are both fine songs on their own, they feel out of place here. The former places Summers as a man alone with a guitar, recorded with a dark tone amidst floating keyboards. It's a lonely song, and doesn't fit very comfortably amidst the denser, more ornate tunes that comprise most of the album. "Broken Afternoon" initially is rather too reminiscent of Dylan meets James Taylor, but despite being out of step with the album as a whole, it’s a pleasantly memorable song.

Keep Your Eyes Ahead still takes a little time to sink in, but once it does, bits begin to pop into your head unexpectedly: little guitar melodies here, vocal choruses there. Any 37-minute, 10-song album that boasts more than one or two memorable tunes seems increasingly rare in our current download-ready singles era, but this is such an album. Perhaps enforced vacations might benefit other bands as well.

By Mason Jones

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