Up against Love And Distance, there is virtually no recognizing The Helio Sequence we once cherished. Gone are the upbeat poppy keyboard riffs of “Harmonica Song” and the super-dance driven electronics of “The People Of The Secret”. Gone are the hip-swaying, feel-good lyrics of “Everyone Knows Everyone”. And there’s practically no trace of harmonica to be heard. Yet Keep Your Eyes Ahead holds its ground as, possibly, an even more profound album then The Helio Sequence’s 2004 Sub Pop release.
Opening with “Lately”, we’re given deep, thoughtful lyrics and low, dark vocals that make up the majority of the album. The electronic side of The Helio Sequence remains; it’s the upbeat part of the electronics and vocals that fades away throughout much of the album. “Can’t Say No” returns to lightly upbeat electronic-pop, albeit still much darker than virtually anything off Love And Distance, and “You Can Come To Me” which puts early U2 like vocals in front of an atmospheric electro-pop backdrop. “Hallelujah” almost fits the upbeat mold, but maintains the newly delicious dark side of The Helio Sequence.
“The Captive Mind” stands out a prominent tune; the guitars add an atmospheric element that heightens the mysteriousness of the song. This atmospheric sound is common throughout the album. “Back To This” slows things down once again, overdosing the song in spacious guitars and lazy, swaying lyrics. “Hallelujah”, amidst heavier electronic backing, even has the prominent guitar-ridden dreaminess.
While Keep Your Eyes Ahead is packed with great tunes, “Shed Your Love” may be the ultimate high point. The acoustic finger-picked guitar and low, echoing vocals are fit to remind the listener of the greatness of The National’s Boxer. Similarly, the title track follows suit but fits the mold of Boxer‘s louder tracks. “Broken Afternoon”, while returning to the finger-picked guitar, is not necessarily reminiscent of The National, but nonetheless forces the listener to focus on the vocalist due to more minimal instrumentation.
Closing with the short, awkward “No Regrets” is almost fitting. It gives The Helio Sequence a closing tune similar to the opening ones off Clap Your Hands Say Yeah albums, though not necessarily a throwaway track. It is the lone tune that brings back the harmonica. It also builds toward the end with a blues-ey harmony chorus packed with vocalists. It’s readily apparent that in Keep Your Eyes Ahead, The Helio Sequence never looks back. And in doing so, they’ve distanced themselves from some of their earlier work and created a masterpiece.
This review was originally published January 24, 2008 on the old version of FensePost.
Sub Pop [CD, 2008]
2. Can’t Say No
3. The Captive Mind
4. You Can Come To Me
5. Shed Your Love
6. Keep Your Eyes Ahead
7. Back To This
9. Broken Afternoon
10. No Regrets