CD Review of Keep Your Eyes Ahead by The Helio Sequence
Recommended if you like
Band of Horses, The Shins,
The Walkmen, Postal Service
Label
Sub Pop
The Helio Sequence:
Keep Your Eyes Ahead

Reviewed by Taylor Long

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O
n first listen, the new record from Portland duo the Helio Sequence sounds uncomfortably similar to their labelmates and geographical neighbors, the Shins and Band of Horses. They have that indie rock sound that's become stereotypical somehow – songs that hover around the four-minute mark, filled with echo and reverb for a dreamy, ethereal effect, a singer with a mid-range voice who can bring it up for a slightly strained emotional punch. These have become staples of the genre over the last few years, and with good reason: it works. It's hard to hate music that's moving and pretty.

The Helio Sequence can't really be faulted for these similarities, however, because they've been heading down this path for just as long as those now household names. It's just taken them longer to produce something as cohesive and agreeable. With Keep Your Eyes Ahead, they've finally reached their destination.

They assert this immediately with the opener. From its very beginning, "Lately" is undeniable. An anthem for getting over that last relationship and making it on one’s own, it begs to be listened to repeatedly. The guitar is perfectly exuberant, dancing around a driving drumbeat without ever getting firmly pinned down. In a masterful one-two punch, "Can't Say No" follows on its heels and keeps the momentum.

With an opening this good, the Helio Sequence set the stakes high for the rest of the album, and for the most part, they reach them. In the four years they took between albums – partly due to the fact that frontman Brandon Summers wrecked his voice after vigorous touring for their last release – it's clear that they spent some of that time maturing their sound. One of the things that's most impressive about Keep Your Eyes Ahead is how much sound they’ve produced. It's hard to believe that two people can sound so easily like four or five. Just as noteworthy is their skill for adding layer after layer without sounding overbearing.

The breadth of the album actually manages to exceed the recent releases of their peers. They dabble in Postal Service-style electro-pop with "the Captive Mind," and keep it simple with "Shed Your Love," a demure folk ballad about moving on. This diversity makes things interesting without losing cohesion.

The second half isn't quite as strong as the first – "Back to This" is pretty but a little bit boring, and the final track, "No Regrets," is done in an old-timey fashion that misses the mark somehow and makes for an awkward dismount. It qualifies its time, though, with the presence of "Hallelujah," an assertive jam about the frustrations of wanting to have faith and finding little reason to.

Though their overtly indie rock sound puts the Helio Sequence at risk to be easily brushed aside as imitators, to do so would be a mistake on the listener's behalf. With Keep Your Eyes Ahead, the band has earned a well-deserved chance to shine. Come into the light.

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