“One More Time”, the first track from the fifth studio album of Portland’s indie duo The Helio Sequence, doesn’t immediately suggest a more dynamic follow-up to the group’s 2008 album Keep Your Eyes Ahead. However, the song is highly deceptive; Negotiations proves that Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel have concurrently mastered the art of subtlety and made full use of their alt-rock tendencies.
In keeping with the album’s title, the majority of lyrical content emphasises a constant self-questioning. It is most notably seen on the melancholic track “Open Letter”, in which Summers exclaims ‘How could I not see / You were waiting / For an answer from me?’. His vocals are unassumingly graceful on this track, and become representative of the emotional power his laments hold throughout the album.
This moody nostalgia is coupled with Weikel’s dance-like percussion on “Downward Spiral”, one of the album’s standout tracks. The introductory synth arpeggio is reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place”, yet the song builds to an emotionally and musically heavy chorus, which becomes hypnotic within a wall of dense reverb.
There are breaks from the melancholia however, in which the band capitalise on their catchy indie-rock sensibilities. There is a subtle R.E.M. vibe present on “Hall of Mirrors”. The song forges a powerful momentum, yet manages to oscillate between moments of subtlety and phrases of bombastic percussion and volatile guitar. Alongside “Harvester of Souls” and “October”, the track exudes a warm tone. This tone is cleverly juxtaposed against the cold textures of “The Measure” and “Silence on Silence”, in order to promote both a sense of intimacy and a chance for more confident musical expressions.
It is clear that The Helio Sequence, having now played together for over a decade, know how to expand the aesthetic of a duo. The band’s name emphasises the fact that the sequence of the sun establishes a hot/cold binary, and the duo have taken inspiration from this polarity to create an album with greater artistic depth than the group’s previous offerings. Negotiations feels surprisingly organic, and strives to achieve both subtle nuances and harsh contrasts. Despite being more subtle than overstated, the album most definitely achieves its own unique hot/cold binary.
Review Score: 7.9 out of 10.