The Helio Sequence - Negotiations
It seems we'll never know what this album was meant to sound like. The four-year gap between Keep Your Eyes Ahead and Negotiations most likely would never have happened if it hadn't been for the flood that washed out The Helio Sequence's studio-cum-practice-space in 2009. Things would probably have gone according to plan for the duo if Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel hadn't needed to relocate and shake things up. It's oddly fitting that the album's eventual fate should have been decided by a flood, however, because Negotiations is an album that's almost (sorry) overflowing with confidence. They had to rip things up and start again, and with disaster averted, they were allowed to produce what's definitely some of their best work. Fans will be familiar with 'October' and 'Hall of Mirrors', the two songs used to trail the album; those songs hinted at a more ethereal sound for the duo, and that's exactly what the new album - their fifth since 2000's Com Plex - delivers.
The album is based around melodies that manage to sound both intimate and expansive simultaneously. One of the best examples of this is the album's title track, which flows from verse to chorus and back again with an effortless grace that the band excel at, its tightly-wound melodies giving the song a sense of grandeur that it benefits hugely from. There are times, over the course of the record, when the listener really gets a feel for what The Helio Sequence have tried to do: the hook on the appropriately-named 'Downward Spiral' makes use of a descending scale - it sounds fragile on its own, but when augmented by Summers's powerful vocals and Weikel's simple yet effective drumming, it manages to sound huge. They don't rely on bombast for its own sake, instead using what they have to create something a lot bigger than most two-piece bands manage; the infectious, rollicking opener 'One More Time' is more proof of this.
After four years away, Negotiations is a timely reminder of what The Helio Sequence can do when they're at the top of their game. Maybe a few more up-tempo songs wouldn't have hurt ('When the Shadow Falls' and 'Hall of Mirrors' definitely do that kind of thing well, particularly the latter, which hits new heights when placed in-between a mid-tempo song and an acoustic one, as it is here - respectively, 'The Measure' and 'Harvester of Souls'), but the album accomplishes its goals with a sense of style and elegance that never once verges on becoming overwrought. They can write some damn fine pop songs, too - 'Open Letter' is the album highlight, coasting along on a cascading melody that serves to remind us just how much we've missed this band. It took a near-catastrophe to bring Summers and Weikel to this point, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.