Fri June 25, Neumo's, 9 pm, $8 adv/$10 DOS.
There's nothing like a reverb-drenched blast (and here, blast hardly relays just how powerful the blare is) of harmonica and psychedelic stomped-guitar, driven by rock-solid drums and snaked with vaguely '70s-inflected vocals to signal the beginning of an album alive with compound pop. What? That description is fucked and ridiculous, until you hear what follows "Harmonica Song," the first track of the Helio Sequence's third album and debut for Sub Pop, Love and Distance.
"I think [the album] is going to surprise a lot of people," says Brandon Summers, the singing and harmonica- and guitar-playing member of the two-person band, "because it is so different. But we went into it knowing that we wanted it to be a pop record."
Fans of the band's prior full-lengths, 2000's Com Plex and 2001's Young Effectuals, may find themselves taken aback because those albums are rock-hard slabs of blurry dissonance and vocal confusion, backed by difficult- to-detect, delicate melody. Says drummer Benjamin Weikel, who also plays keyboards, "I really like Young Effectuals because it is crazy and wild, super emotional, and a lot to digest." Summers adds that if he remembers correctly, a similar confusion about the band's direction happened when Young Effectuals came out, though, "because people said, 'Wow, it's so noisy and full.'" Com Plex is much darker in a spooky, drugged-out way, yet still able to grab you by the throat, closing with unease where Young Effectuals throttles the hell out.
Each song on Love and Distance reflects an inarguable sense of two musicians maturing as artists, together. Says Summers, "Everything we do is a natural progression, and that involves going in different directions with our creativity. When you take a look at your life as a band and you realize that instead of playing 30-minute opening sets, you're starting to play hour to hour-and-a-half headlining sets, it's just good to have a wider range of material. We realized that if we come out with our guns blazing full on the whole time, then after a while people get bored." The 23-year-old singer gets a bit philosophical, adding, "The way that this new material mixes in with our crazier, faster stuff adds variety and beauty to the set and I think that it is a reflection of where both of us have been in our lives for the past two years--we've grown up. Especially in the last six or seven months, I look back on how much I've grown up, and it's more than I can even fathom."
Weikel chalks the new direction up to having a more relaxed practice space, courtesy of Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock. When that band's original drummer, Jeremiah Green, decided to quit, it was Weikel who stepped in, playing back-to-back sets when the bands toured together. "When we got into Isaac's practice space it was the first time that we could leave our stuff there, could play all night--we were kind of giddy with all the freedom. Anything we do from here on out is upward, especially since signing to Sub Pop."
Was it hard to split his time with Summers, though? And how did he feel when he was told that Green would be resuming his drumming with Modest Mouse? "I think they were looking for something possibly more permanent but I didn't want to bail on Brandon," says Weikel. "I ended up [working with Modest Mouse] a lot longer than I thought I was [going to]. I thought I might be doing it for a couple of tours and it ended up being a whole year. It was a thrill, but tiring at times because when we were touring together I'd get done drumming for Helio and then turn right around and drum for Modest Mouse. But I got to do what I love and then immediately do what I love again."
When asked if he was sad that he's not still in Modest Mouse, now that their album Good News for People Who Love Bad News is getting so much airplay (he wrote the drum parts for Good News), Weikel answers with admirable honesty and candor. "When I saw them play on Jimmy Kimmel the other night with Jeremiah back on drums I felt kind of sad, like, 'Aw, there's my band.'"