Sometimes the most beautiful things rise from the ashes of destruction. This was the case for Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel. The duo, who has been playing music together under the moniker The Helio Sequence since 1996, received some bad news while on tour for their acclaimed album, Keep Your Eyes Ahead. A flood had destroyed their studio/practice space, taking a good amount of the two-piece’s gear along with it. This was in 2009. In the years that followed, Summers and Weikel looked at the disaster as a time to start anew. They found a new space and decided to experiment with vintage gear, replacing their cleaner-sounding modern digital studio equipment with tape and analog delays; spring and plate reverbs; tube preamps; ribbon microphones and analog synths. Summers also threw away the notion that a lyric is a statement and replaced it with an improv ethos, scrapping pre-written lyrics and adlibbing in front of the microphone, thinking of the lyrics as a letter to himself or a conversation with his own subconscious.
The result of this rebirth is Negotiations, The Helio Sequence’s fifth and most sincere full-length to date. Like the title suggests, the 11 songs that comprise this album act as a meditation on inner dialogues with solitude, misgivings, acceptance and hope. It is a testament to the beauty and blessing of a fresh start. From the record’s first song, “One More Time,” the twosome’s redirection is clear. Though Weikel’s complex, intricate drumming and Summers’ lush guitar work and reverbed crooning is still intact, the sound is warmer and deeper than previous works. The reverb is slight, pushing the vocals along a more natural path. The pace is slow, creating a hazy, dreamlike soundscape. This song, along with others (“Open Letter,” “Downward Spiral,” “Silence on Silence,” “Negotiations”) began as one-minute sketches that were later enhanced with weeks of sound treatments and synth landscapes. Written, recorded and produced by the guitarist and drummer themselves, the album came to be in their own terms, furthering the theme of introspection.
The album’s centerfold, “Harvester of Souls,” came into fruition from a completely improvised (both lyrically and musically) single take that resulted in an ethereal ballad of acoustic guitars, droning instrumentation and beautifully straining vocals, whereas “When The Shadow Falls,” sounds like a continuation of Keep Your Eyes Ahead with its upbeat harmonies and “oh oh oh,” vocal intro. But the album’s highlight is the atmospheric “Silence on Silence.” The track begins with a spacey/otherworldly instrumental intro before Summers confesses, “Making your concessions, accepting that sometimes you cannot choose / And you realize there’s nothing left to say.”
Negotiations ends with its haunting title track. Tribal-like instrumentation guides Summers’ vocals as he sings “Shake my hand, look right through me.” Midway through the song, rich, choral-like “oohs” and “aahs” boom in unison with striking percussion and warbling guitar. The track ends with an intricate vocal loop that continues to build on itself for the last two minutes before chillingly fading out.
Though this record’s pace does not change much during its 43 minutes of playtime, each track is a slow-burning confession from Summers and Weikel’s subconscious, a genuine feat that has taken them 16 years to convey.