Review: Helen “The Original Faces”

24 Aug 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

One must rifle through something in order to reach Helen's The Original Faces full-in beauty, and it isn't distortion. The barricade between the album's heavenliness and our ears may or may not result from being over-familiar with Liz Harris' modus operandi; experiencing her vocal-puddling grandeur under a different guise partially informs this suspected barrier. The structural rock and friendly shoegaze, not to mention the application of a tambourine, distances us from longing, pleading, predictable, addictive Grouper. The Original Faces lacks any type of lull or shrugging shoulders. Executed in twelve short tracks, the band knows exactly what they want to accomplish and does it most succinctly. Be that as it may, I had a strange memory lapse in learning about the release. I thought to myself, "Oh, of course this is coming out, and that's great, and it feels deja-vu-y, and of course it's shoegazy, and there's a song called 'Allison,' which is probably a Slowdive cover." 

It's not; it's an original "Allison," and it's absolutely lovely. Throughout the album, lyrical layers accumulate and chantey with Jed Bindeman's hi-hat-heavy drums and Scott Simmon's slowly progressive electric guitar. "Dying All The Time" is a tight-knit snare, floor tom, and ride tapestry, one that digs and digs and digs through seemingly impassable surfaces. The tension and focus lifts every time Harris reenters, no matter the track. Finished in only thirty-three minutes, one might feel as if something has quickly washed over them, like an unnoticed storm that alters the temperature. Hit play again, and focus more. Find something to grab on to, such as the lingering vocals at the end of "Violet." 

Harris' indecipherable lyrics leave us fulfilled. The project is unique, and some Grouper fans likely rejoice in her appearance in a shoegaze band. The sound of Helen, on the other hand, is heavily habitual. If such is the case, how does the project still feel anomalous, a forces which satiates and calms someone who has been suffering from musical frustration? Gorgeous though it is, something about the album is fleeting, unavailable for grasping fully. Some people certainly love and prefer music like that.

Helen's freshman full-length will be out on September 4 on Kranky. You can check out their 7" from 2013, whose tracks will likewise appear on The Original Faces.