Thursday 30 January 2014

Helms Alee - Sleepwalking Sailors - Album Review

Sleepwalking Sailors cover art

Album Type:Full Length
Date Released: 11th February 2014
Label: Sargent House Records

Sleepwalking Sailors, album track listing:

1. Pleasure Center
2. Tumescence
3. Pinniped
4. Dangling Modifiers
5. Heavy Worm Burden
6. Crystal Gale
7. New West
8. Fetus. Carcass.
9. Slow Beef
10. Animatronic Bionic
11. Dodge The Lightning


Helms Alee's music is exactly the sort of mutant, fantastic hybrid that used to only occasionally erupt out of small, isolated scenes, uninformed by trends of the day — instead inspired by the band’s own collective contributions. The Seattle trio’s unique amalgam of metal, art rock, pop and punk is charmingly reminiscent of the fertile creativity that groups once had before the Internet seemed to instruct bands to only copy one another. Helms Alee’s third album, Sleepwalking Sailors sounds like many styles combined into one, and none of it concerned with any notion other than creating vital, urgent and uniquely characteristic music.

Bassist/vocalist Dana James, drummer/vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis and guitarist/vocalist Ben Verellen combine a vast array of ideas within a single song, while still sounding entirely cohesive. Their songs are undeniably heavy, but also freely roaming through icy post-punk and warm melodic haze at any given moment. Any given song can be pummeling one moment and then subtly shift into triply harmonies without the listener even realizing what has happened.

"The weird thing about it," Verellen muses, "is that we've got three different people contributing lyrics, parts and melodies to each song. So, they end up being disjointed by our individual input. We spent 3-1/2 years writing the songs for this album, so it's thematically all over the place."

Sleepwalking Sailors was recorded with engineer Chris Common (These Arms Are Snakes, Pelican, Chelsea Wolfe) in Seattle, with intentionally built-in limitations. "We recorded the album to tape in order to confine ourselves from ProTools refining every detail. We ended up with something that sounds really big, but also a bit more aggressive." Helms Alee's previous album Weatherhead was released in 2011 to much acclaim by their longtime label HydraHead just before it went under. Undaunted, and as a testament to the band's strong fan base, Helms Alee originally crowdfunded Sleepwalking Sailors, eventually raising an impressive recording budget. Upon hearing Common's early mixes, Sargent House quickly offered to bring the band onto their management roster and release the new album. Throughout the course of the album's creation, the band's independent aesthetic becomes clear: a dedication to truly representing themselves, regardless of trends and outside influence.

The Band Members:

Ben Verellen
Dana James
Hozoji Matheson-margullis


Helms Alee's debut for Sargent House is a complete monster of an album, full of melody and math. They strike a delicate balance of outrageous fuzz and clean post-rock that allow for an enormous pallet of sounds. Every song is layered expertly and shifts organically between savage riffs and delicate soundscapes.

In Sleepwalking Sailors Helms Alee have added to their bag of tricks, building off the dynamic and aggressive records Weatherhead and Night Terror. As usual, Matheson-Margullis lays out lots of toms, with a touch of double-kick here, extra rolls there. The vocals have more harmonized passages and layers. James' bass lines walk melodically, and Verellen's guitars sound dynamic and live. Everything has a little extra heat in it.

Pleasure Center starts the album off going from shoegaze-y guitars to thunderous double-kick drumming, with wonderfully layered vocals. Tumescence follows with some savage fuzz, tom-heavy rolling drums, and ends by showing off their expertise in head-banging maths. More loud-quiet-loud rocking comes next in Pinniped, starting with a crashing intro, falling into a rolling melodic passage, and a crushing end.

Jangling guitars start off Dangling Modifiers, joined by a heavy dose of toms, fuzzy bass and alternating screams with airy singing. Heavy Worm Burden has some of the busiest drum work on the album, leading to a heavy turn and melodic build that finishes the song. Crystal Gale is a short interlude before the heavy start of New West. Here, with the drums solo, the quality of the recording really shines. The drums are nicely resonant and live sounding, even when the rest of the band joins in. Nothing gets muddy, despite heavy doses of delay, vocals, and distortion.

Fetus Carcass brings more counting fun and head-banging riffs. Slow Beef evokes Mogwai with a build from atmospheric guitars to a bombastic end with touches of keyboards adding another layer in the mix. The penultimate track, Animatronic, is a brief, but superbly heavy tune. Dodge the Lightning finishes off the record by showing off a little bit of everything Helms does so well, with multiple vocal lines, rumbling bass, and dynamic guitars.

This is by far the best sounding record they've released. Every instrument and vocal line sits perfectly in the mix, the drums clear and live. Each sound distinct but unified, creating a colorful and layered aesthetic. The songwriting is superb, and as always there is a fun complexity to their rhythms while steadily grooving through odd-time. This is a gem of an album. Everyone should buy it as soon as they can.

Written by Ben Bowman

Sleepw alking Sailors will be avialable to buy on CD/DD/Vinyl via Sargent HouseRecords from February 11th. Thanks to Rachel at Silver PR, Sargent House and Lisa at Suburban for sending us a promo to review.

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