Archive for June, 2011

this is all i will say about the new Helms Alee album for now.

Posted in Uncategorized on June 27, 2011 by darryl zero

When I first got into Helms Alee three years ago, the serendipity of my finding them in the first place was enough to make me love them, even if I didn’t find their music to be a breath of fresh air amidst the endless stream of asterisked post-whatever bands informed by any one of a million bands I kind of liked. Indeed, I loved them because they were a fantastic accidental discovery, a purchase made based on the most unlikely of decisions (at least for me).

As is the case with everything I truly, deeply love, I observed and examined all I could about their music, quickly and guiltlessly elevating them to “favorite new band,” then “favorite band.” I felt (and feel) no guilt about this–I listen to a lot of music, and it’s rare that anything captures me with the merciless glee that the power trio’s crushing sound ensnared me with. It’s a testament to their sticking power, if only because I, as a former college radio nerd with many a fickle taste and flight of fancy, are prone to fits of obsession that fade in intensity as months go by. Part of that has to do with the fleeting nature of art itself–so much of it is created on impulse, or with the tenuous fuel of fragility, either through some emotion that fades or through the haze of an irreplaceable, temporary high, or even out of the need to complete some nebulous “artistic vision” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) the previous work somehow could not realize.

Perhaps the best thing about Weatherhead, the band’s second full-length album, is that there is nothing about it that implies any sense of completion or termination. Indeed, the album itself doesn’t seem to begin or end–the album’s nominal “intro” is really just an echo of the climax of the title (and closing) track–such that, were the album not capped by a hidden track (“Pimp Bunnies,” a hilarious left-field snippet that could either be a studio outtake or a legitimate joke track–in itself a testament to the band’s sense of humor), one could easily listen to the entire thing three times without caring. I say “without caring” because one would definitely notice; the songs are far from same-y, even if the same rudimentary elements that have always been there are still in place. Hozoji Matheson-Margullis still holds the show together, powerful voice calling the thunder of her drums, Dana James’s airy voice wafting through the din even as her bass rattles the woofers, while Ben Verellen’s guitars and vocals go from chime to roar simultaneously.

By default, Verellen’s guitar contributions stand out, if only because it has the greatest variations in tone, warm and pleasant when clean and fucking brutal when distorted–especially on the heavier numbers, notably “Ripper No Lube,” barely two minutes long including a half-minute Boomeranging intro and threatening to spiral dangerously out-of-control at any moment. The song isn’t entirely unexpected (comparable to “Big Spider,” a cut on their previous full-length that gave name to a specific model of distortion pedal Verellen also sells), but the impact is as energizing as it is mesmerizing. Even more impressive is Verellen’s restraint, on display particularly on “Mad Mouth,” in which his ringing guitar dances in 5/8 with James’s bass, the two tones mingling to the point at which it’s hard to tell which is which before, two minutes in, the band hits the ‘RESET’ button and churns their way to the end on the tracks of Matheson-Margullis’s drums.

It’s impossible to pick Weatherhead‘s highlight; the album is so varied and so completely dominating in its sound, that to compare one track to another qualitatively is to miss the point entirely, leading to one pleasant truth: that the band, three longtime friends who happen to also be accomplished musicians, have legitimately made an album, not a mere collection of songs captured at different moments to be consumed and playlisted. There are standout moments–the two-minute echoing figures beginning “Pretty As Pie,” the trio’s dueling choruses at the center of “Speed Sk8er,” the triumphantly incendiary ending of “8/16” being but three examples–but the honest truth is that the album is a reflection of the band itself: capable of abrasive or soothing sounds, careening back-and-forth through emotional tapestries of noise like a broken branch through rapids, or a flame through open air, at times deft and precise, at other times crushingly heavy and monstrously overpowering.

It is a work of complete perfection, which is only surprising because it follows an album of equal, unassailable beauty, adding new turns and twists without fixing what isn’t broken and creating an indescribable force of pure wonder.

In an age in which music has been cheapened and hollowed to the point at which even counterculture reeks of the same ennui that ruined culture in the first place, one fact becomes surprisingly clear: we do not deserve Helms Alee. That its three unassuming, good-humored members are completely unaware of their own brilliance serves as further testament to their status as the unqualifiably best band in rock.


8:14 (73)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 11, 2011 by darryl zero

I should be working on one of the million things I have in the fire or on my mental “to-do” list–writing my pieces for Komplicated, the novel, any one of a billion songs and stories swirling through my brain, or cleaning my room. I was doing the latter when I sat up, holding a dirty sock and a piece of paper I’d held for some reason, number written on it whose significance or meaning I can’t remember for the life of me-and looked at the lock. The three digits were changing color; in my haste to shut the alarm off this morning, I accidentally hit the button that chooses the display color, leaving the LCD display rippling downward, the ripples becoming more visible as the colors brightened and cycled through an infinite rainbow over and over.

I don’t have to be at work for at least three more hours, and even then, I don’t really care. My brain’s not focused on that, nor is it on my impending joblessness, nor the failure I won’t be able to hide from my mother when she comes to visit in a matter of weeks, nor the money I owe to whomever happens to be calling me as I write this, area code familiar but not immediately recognizable.

As I inhale, smelling and tasting, however faintly, the trace of coconut milk from the glass I drank an hour ago, something catches in my lungs, something clearly defined but small. I want to think it’s a dust particle, something foreign, something from outside me, but I suspect it’s just a trace element of dead skin or tissue that needs to escape.

But I don’t care about any of that right now, because I’m alone in this apartment but for the cats, and no one in my immediate vicinity wants or needs me to do anything, and that’s so rare these days that I have to spend eight minutes and fourteen seconds to actually do something only for me.

Time’s up.