Keep This Be The Way by Helms AleeRelease date: April 29, 2022
Label: Sargent House
For five albums Seattle’s Helms Alee have certainly been operating under my radar. Until a chance glimpse of the artwork accompanying their sixth release Keep This Be the Way caught my eye. Beneath the thickly applied paint reminiscent of Jackson Pollock lurks a face and a pre-curser for there is lot going on here if you dig deeper. This is best exemplified on the lead off track ‘See Sights Smell Smells’, which more than justifies initial interest as electronica thrums, propulsive beats, saxophone stronks, melodic piano lines, and glacial vocals, mesh into one intriguing, weird, and seductive whole.
Many artists found new ways of writing, recording, and producing during the pandemic and Helms Alee were no different, as they hunkered down to guitarist/vocalist’s makeshift studio in his amplifier shop. They subsequently went about proceeding to focus more on textural sounds than the previously customary requirement of capturing their live sound on record. When bassist/vocalist Dana James croons ‘I know there is colour’ on the afore-mentioned opening track, this could be taken as self-acknowledgement that they have hit upon satisfying extra flourishes dextrously woven into their sound.
To say there are many stylistic variations and genre-crossing is an understatement. Your head will explode if you scratch that analytical chin mulling over the detailed influences at play on each song, let alone spread across the whole album. Fortunately, the album is too much of a joy to be bogged down in tick box referencing, as-long, of course, you have open ears. There may not be any standout hits, or even an obvious track to point the way for the best introduction into the album, as the whole is more rewarding than any of its individual parts. And this could be a reason why they might continue to fall short of gaining more people’s attention. However, listening in full to Keep This Be the Way does allow you to be drawn into and fuller appreciate Helms Alee’s musical landscape. There is such an abundance of creative ideas it is nothing short of miraculous that they all gel so the album maintains a strong cohesiveness for a rewarding listen.
The fact that all three members participate in vocal duties weaves a tapestry of extra dimensions in parallel with an array of varying guitar textures. Their different vocal tones can twist and pull the songs between tenderness and a tougher urgency. While the songs themselves swing between sturdy Melvins stylised riffage on ‘Three Cheeks to the Wind’, a pared down guitar and synth swoon in ‘Big Louise’, to the brooding tension of ‘Do Not Expose to the Burning Sun’, while there are sunny harmonies on ‘Mouth Thinker’, and echoes from the driving beats and vocal melodies of Nirvana’s ‘Scentless Apprentice’ on ‘Tripping up the Stairs.’
What you get then, in a broad streamlined description, is post-metal experimentalism, 90’s alt-rock attack, and softer Indie warming melodies. This still doesn’t quite explain fully what Helms Alee have pulled out of the bag, and it would be interesting to know what influences they had been listening to prior to collectively working on the album. However, the band they probably mostly share DNA with for stylistic diversity at least, is Årabrot. It’s an album full of surprises. How the trio perform ‘See Sights Smell Smells’ live though, is still a nice problem to have.