w/ the Melody Unit
I-Spy, Sat Dec 22, $8, 9 pm.
The second song on the Helio Sequence's 2001 release, Young Effectuals, is called "Give, Give, Give," a gorgeous title. It starts out, "In this sprawling sprawl there's this calling call inside me/and suffice to say it's effectual to feel free." The words are wide-eyed and sweet. And words don't really matter that much when the accompanying music is exquisite, except when the message conflicts with the song's overall mood.
There is no conflict to be heard on "Give, Give, Give." It's a bright, carnivalesque pop pileup, made by two wildly creative boys, Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel, in the Beaverton, Oregon music shop where they work. And, as the boys displayed on their debut album, Com Plex, they are both imaginative songwriters and outstanding producers: their output is more ambitious and accomplished than most of what's being made in the Northwest right now.
A great image of youth: Two boys, newly twentied, toiling into the wee hours of the night, sequencing electronic tracks, twenty-folding 4AD-style guitar delay, giving one song a new bridge while excitedly adding a new keyboard track to another, the end result being a deep, orchestrally textured and experimental rock and roll album. And it's a very real image. Young Effectuals, like Com Plex before it, is so ambitious that I actually felt proud of Summers and Weikel when I first heard it. You don't often find ambition like this. And when you do, it rarely manifests itself this impressively. Young Effectuals calls to mind the Beatles while intimating Mouse on Mars, referencing My Bloody Valentine, Duster, Modest Mouse, Chemical Brothers... it goes virtually everywhere, with energy to spare.
The lyrics to "Give, Give, Give" imply that the boys were feeling open and reckless when they wrote, and that's likely. In fact, while all of the music on Young Effectuals is outstanding, most of the writing seems hastily conceived. And while the second track is happily escapist, many of the other lyrics on the album are disappointingly bummed-out. The Helio Sequence wants very much to point out that we (society) are not free people--that most of the world is ineffectual and driven by the mean-spirited corporate cultural engine that leftists and reactionaries all love to hate: The Man's engine, to which life's sensitive protagonists are all slave laborers; the engine that invented and perpetuates lovelessness, greed, and so forth. And what person with a heart would contest rock lyrics that rail against that kind of tyranny?
Well, one who believes that the otherworldly sounds of the Helio Sequence are inhospitable to such sophomoric pessimism. Some believe that you can't trust artists this young; very young artists--especially ones with the imaginative powers of Summers and Weikel--function from a highly intuitive place when writing music. And while intuition is certainly essential to great art, so is refinement.
The song I like most is an instrumental track called "Stracenska 612," from Com Plex. The melody positively glows. It's buoyant, refined, flawless. In contrast, while a song like "The Echo Blomp" (Young Effectuals) is a sublime bit of shoegazer art worthy of Slowdive, the lyrics work against it. The moaning, deeply effected guitars sound as though they were recorded deep beneath the ocean's surface, and the entire composition transports the listener in giant, wavelike bursts of inspired sonic impressionism. But lyrics like "Watch out for the platinum mastered man, it's all a scam, with his big white teeth" poke holes through the psychedelic calm that the instruments and sequencers create. The words are corny--like watered-down Beatles, where "ooohs" and "aaahs" would be more appealing and less of a killjoy.
The vocal melody for "The Echo Blomp" is strong enough that if you were to pay no attention to the words being sung, you'd be hard-pressed to find a flaw. "[Square] Bubbles," also from Young Effectuals, suffers from a similar conflict. In the case of this song, however, the instrumentation is a bit punkier. The electronic sequences are quirky, and the guitars are comparably raw, but where the overall composition is elegantly rendered, the lyrics are addled with growing pains: "I'm not part of your little scene/I don't read your magazine/We don't play your fashion shows/We don't wear your pretty clothes," Summers sings.
Summers has a great rock and roll voice, and the Helio Sequence is fantastic. In a few more years, when the duo has gained the wisdom to apply the same libidinal joy to lyric-writing that it does to its stellar instrumental music-making, this will be a perfect band.