It’s a small world we live in. I was delighted to find when reading about Helicopter Quartet that they are two musicians I am quite familiar with from another time in my life. Over the years I have shared a bill with both Catscans and We Sell Seashells (Helicopter Quartet‘s predecessors), both of which were incredible acts: huge-sounding, complex and ultimately entertaining. One thing I noticed when Catscans began performing was that they appeared to have less members than before. It seems that the group has since dissolved even further into what we have before us today: Chrissie Caulfield on violin & synth duties and Michael Capstick on guitar and bass.
‘Helicopter Quartet’ begins with a scattered piece entitled ‘Frida’, which moves hastily from section to section never featuring more than one or two parts at a time. Swelling synth sounds bulge until a totally unpredictable burst of noise cracks every window in the room, leaving a melancholic solo violin. This layers up and drops out again until a rhythmical synth-line is introduced, crescendoing until screeching strings fall from the sky (not unlike something from GY!BE). Sadly, this opening track seems unfocused and doesn’t contain much real structure for all and every passage it wanders through.
Next up is the mysterious ‘Heroes and Villains’, a brooding nine-minute desert piece that would be at home sweltering with delay-soaked trills as the sun boils in the sky. The piece’s repetition and shimmering guitar begs for vulture squawks, and the processing of strings mutates them from gongs to flutes and even didgeridoos. It’s hands down my personal favourite on the collection.
‘Afternoon Nightmare’ is a dissonant, haunting track displaying the ease with which strings can make one feel on edge as notes swing in and out of tune. It reminds me vaguely of one of my favourite Silver Mt. Zion compositions ‘Sisters! Brothers! Small Boats of Fire Are Falling From The Sky!’ In fact, the whole track has a very distinct SMZ feel to it, if only Efrim were wailing away in that slur of his.
The record finishes with another moody, broody violin-led post-rock number: ‘Point of No Return’. Starting sombre, with trembling guitar sat in the background, the group once again bursts into another Godspeed-tribute of sorts.
‘Helicopter Quartet’ is the product of two dedicated musicians, full of ideas and inspirations. The pair have been writing together for an incredibly long time so there is no doubt in their musical ability. I have witnessed firsthand the immense force to come from Caulfield’s violin when screaming through a wall of sound and I have seen Capstick’s guitar create and enforce this wall in top form. I would be incredibly interested to see how this duo develops and expands over time and strongly recommend expanding into an actual quartet to better reflect their name and for the sake of adding the missing elements from this production: rhythm and bass. The group have melodic strengths and rhythmical ideas but are lacking that which drives these things. With the addition of a percussionist and cellist, for example, their sound would be fuller, more complex and carry the strength of their influences. That’s not to say that they have to move in this direction… SonVer and more recently Jo Quail (after they split) worked miracles with the model Helicopter Quartet are working under. I personally am looking forward to watching Helen Money perform at All Tomorrow’s Parties this winter; her rock-based cello improvisation is, again, not far from this embryonic Leeds-based ensemble.
Helicopter Quartet will be playing a number of shows across Leeds this September. If you’re in the city, be sure to head over to follow their development first-hand! The album is available now as a pay what you like download via their Bandcamp.
Posted by Jake Murray.