Rating – 4/5
After reviewing the first two singles from the Ghost of Helags, we get to sample the full album for the first time. Out on March 5th the album has three singles so far. Mary is the latest, and was preceded by Parallel and Chemistry. As mentioned we’ve already looked into Parallel and Chemistry so roll back into the archives on Faultline Social to find those. Chemistry does open the album which in some ways is a bit annoying as I’ll be skipping the first track but then the second track is the new single Mary, so that’s a happy coincidence!
Mary in this tune doesn’t sound like she had a little lamb. Unless it was made of ketamine. Mary is a girl that would stay awake for days and fall asleep at the rave so she’s much more of the party girl this one. The track is incredibly mellow considering who and what we’re describing but this isn’t a story about her heyday, it feels like the reflection of a time lost, memories gone and perhaps a tinge of regret. Not a filler by any means, but super paired back and chilled out.
“In the Dark, Honey” is track three. No it’s not Winnie the Pooh’s kitchen with the lights off, it’s much more haunting than that. Almost funereal with the pace and the piano backing, it’s quietly hopeful and reassuring. Teresa’s (Woischiski) vocal is astonishingly good as per usual, but with a very simple backing it strikes out on it’s own with such grace and beauty it really holds you. And tight. The floating synths and slow pace makes it seem like the protagonist’s voice is talking from beyond the grave, that dark being far more than an absence of light. It’s the absence of the person we are hearing from, and their reassuring words for the person or persons they have left behind.
In at 4 we have “Bye Bye Tokyo”. This has a great 80s techno kind of vibe. Like an 8 bit Blade Runner. The casio keyboard sound on the main melody is pure nostalgia and is a great counterpoint to a slightly sweeter vocal. The soaring synthy traits as the track progresses give it a great lift. Almost like the plane lifting off as it leaves Japan? Sorry that’s far too kitsch but it’s a definite indicator as to how apt and suited this song is to its title. Kind of a rarity these days.
Night Summer Waiting is up next. Again the aptitude is strong with this one. It feels like the typical summer night where the heat from the day is still around but the night brings in the next chapter. It has a break towards the end where the tone gets darker, a bit more gritty, like a switch from chilling after a summer’s day to getting on it on a summer night out.
Anthem – We Came From The Stars is a bit more reflective. It’s a discussion of who we are, where we are going and how the negative elements in life are the ones that end up defining us. That ends up truly telling us who we are. Musically this builds and builds into a pressured, almost crescendo, topped by almost modem noise computer sounds. Underpinned by the soulful vocal and the harmonic strings it’s a strange centerpiece. The poignant turn seems to suggest a realisation that what might have gone wrong is fleeting, the ending refrain of “you will be mine” is a slightly creepy assertion of intent, and a positivity that is lacking pre crescendo.
Unconditional Love comes next. Very bare for the first third, it’s essentially just vocal. Not bad. Just pretty austere. Then the second third is vocal with a slight backing vocal. Again very austere.
Lyrically the lines are short and they don’t essentially progress, build or interact with each other.
The real issue with this one is the really off putting hi hat sound that takes over for the last minute or so. The midi keyboard melody over the top is fine but this drum beat thing is definitely an odd choice, as is removing the vocal and letting it take the track to the exit all on it’s own. Such a contrast from the start and not in the best way.
Under the Skin pops up now at 8. It’s got a great Black Mirror vibe to it. In fact a lot of this album pairs the electronic awakening of the increasingly technological society that pervades us with the vocal representing the ever fragile soul of humanity. Or something. The juxtaposition of the two waxes and wanes throughout the album. At times it’s integral and essential, one wouldn’t exist almost without the other. This track is one of those. The synth laden soundscape is punctuated by an equally ethereal guitar but it provides a crucial focal point that stops it washing out completely. An absolutely solid representation.
Nothing Can Stop The Rain From Falling Down is track 9. Not a heartfelt recounting of a visit to the British Isles, it’s more an exploration of a relationship and one that’s existing against a backdrop of half a million drops. What would represent a light shower for some of us holds a sense of foreboding throughout the track. Is the rain an impending end to the relationship? We don’t quite find out but this is a song that definitely makes you want to hold your loved one just that little bit tighter.
Parallel lands at number 10.This is one we’ve reviewed before and it remains my absolute favourite on the album.Whilst this will sound like damning with faint praise it’s a stand out on the album because it carries a sense of wakeful bombastic volume. It’s less of a reflection more of an action. This song carries less of an imposing impending sadness and more of a forthright, positive enjoyment. Plus it’s something you can absolutely imagine putting on loud before you go out somewhere. A banger on a summer road trip playlist. It still maintains that quintessential haunting chilled out vocal, and the technocracy of beats that keeps it afloat, which is undeniably the trademark of the Helags. This one was written coming back from a Chemical Brother gig if I remember rightly and you can absolutely tell.
Wicked Wind is the penultimate track on the album and it’s a half step back to a more melancholy feel, with a slightly more strident tinge borrowed from Parallel. The strings are a nice touch here and it adds a sense of sophistication that marries perfectly with the (ever) flawless vocal. The content suggests something that has happened that is not easy to prize out of someone. A pain unspoken. A truth left unreported. It just hurts more to be asked about it than leaving it alone.
The album conclusion comes in the shape of Autobahn Lullaby. For anyone who has driven on a large scale road (motorway, freeway etc) in the dark this captures the ethereal, otherworldly natures of those journeys. The time to think, the essential loneliness and isolation, the feeling that you are the only one on the planet.Not to mention the slight dichotomy that you absolutely don’t want to be falling asleep in this situation. Despite the tone and feel there is an inherent positivity in the lyrics. A constant refrain of a tomorrow that you are ready for. It may not necessarily be the best of days on the horizon but you’ve got this. A great way to round out the album.
All in all there are certain strengths to the musicality of the Helags and this album plays to them. Sometimes perhaps a little too often as the tracks that diverge slightly from this norm are the standout ones. Something with a little more of a pulse won’t go a miss from time to time but the undeniable strength of the album is in the introspection, self reflection and the sometimes bleak conclusions therein.
Review by Jim Clinch