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Helms - The Swimmer

Reviews

basement-LIFE.com

When a band's first full-length is as remarkably original, varied, complex and intelligent as The Swimmer by Helms, it's difficult not to look ahead and try to figure out what exactly the band might be able to pull off on future releases. The Swimmer, though, is by no means a record that should be overlooked. Hailing from Boston, MA, Helms has released only a split EP with a band called Victory At Sea, yet they present themselves and their debut long player with such maturity and composure that, even while there's an undeniable innocence about them, they wind up sounding like seasoned vets who've spent years growing into their sound. At times Helms falls on the mellower side of the fence, creating creepy sections of quiet that could make Tim Kinsella uncomfortable, while at others they allow the silence to slowly build up and become almost abrasive. All the while, Singer/guitarist Sean McCarthy sprinkles scattered bits of singing that's actually more in the vein of Chris Leo styled talking than anything else. Helms' undeniably fresh sound and cool ideas, combined with their apparent high level of comfort in the studio has made for a wonderfully impressive debut, and should earn them a spot on everyone's "bands to watch" list. (mc)

>>> basement-life.com


The Boston Phoenix

From "The Smallest World in the World": "And all the kids will bring their amps outside and point them at the sky and play as loud as they can. Thousands of fingers, the necks of old guitars, amplifiers tilted to the blue. They play at the sky, the empty sky. They play the empty sky." Ain't they sweet? Utopian visions don't come any cuter, and invocations to loudness come no quieter. Joan of Arc's talented, (slightly) less pretentious younger siblings? They're smart/sensitive types sketching soft soliloquies about the courtesies of non-sentient appliances and the gothic emotional resonances of the Pac-Man universe, like advance scouts homesteading a new virtual dustbowl: "We can watch TV like cowboys around a fire, like brave men with tired hearts/We crouch, we smile, while Janet and Chrissy have broken the pipes again. And the laugh track blares and Mr. Roper turns/As the water rushes in."

>>> bostonphoenix.com


Askew Reviews

Of the four CDs I am reviewing for this issue, Helms definitely reigns supreme! These guys actually play music! Remember music? The Swimmer is a very instrumental work. Helms builds songs note by note in the same way an artist creates a magnificent painting one subtle brush stroke at a time. Helms has a clean captivating sound, effective without distortion, like the Smashing Pumpkins in their quieter moments. Slow textured notes build like raindrops and then climax with chords lending thunder to the drizzlescape. Suddenly I wish I had mood lighting. (Note to self: buy lava lamp). The vocals are VERY Lou Reed-like (translation: deadpan). Sometimes they are moody and spoken in near whispers like Roger Waters. But Helms is not consumed with chaos and nuclear war like Mr. Waters. Instead, they sing about playing Pac Man in an Italian bus station while the sun beats down. The vibrato of guitar, bass, and tinny drums suck you in to their weird and psychedelic world. Each track doesn't end in the conventional sense. This is more like Pink Floyd, King Crimson, or Radiohead where every note could suddenly turn and explode on you or rudely dissipate away just when you were enjoying it. "The Smallest World in the World" is definitely a highlight. It starts with rolling guitar that is echo-ey and liquid, smooth and jazzy. The minimalist vocal style is just enough, peeking over the sensual flow of the notes. Moments of silence add to the hypnotic nature of this song. Later on "Teenagers in the Woods" there are intricate flowery trills of guitar notes repeated like some alien Morse code. "Io" is stark and lonely, and ends in a decay of feedback. "Candy Fish" has a marching slow steady beat, electric guitar crashing chord or two, and vocals that emulate Marty Wilson-Piper of The Church. Thought went into these pieces resulting in a brooding, complex, thought provoking opus. If Helms were an acronym it might stand for Hypnotic, Enigmatic, Lush, and Meandering; and if I were a betting man I'd put my all my chips on Helms at the roulette table. -Tony Gerardi

>>> askewreviews.com


Splendid E-zine

With a sense of design that radiates Radiohead and a sound that falls on the minimal side of Sonic Youth, Helms is an outfit with grand expectations and long-lasting tonal explorations. Brothers Sean (guitar) and Dan (drums) McCarthy enlisted the help (and name) or bassist Tina Helms to help paint interesting aural landscapes like "The Kindness of Automatic Doors" and "The Smallest World in the World". "The Television Set" is a consolidation of sound cycles and advanced rhythms that sum up simple, yet sophisticated visions of static and indie guitar grooves. -- im

>>> splendidezine.com


Delusions of Adequacy

I've listened to The Swimmer several times now, and none of these songs stick in my head. I can never remember them afterwards. Does that mean they're not good? No, rather it means they're not simple, catchy pop music. These songs are much more complex than that, both lyrically and musically. I'd challenge you to find yourself singing along to a Helms song long after playing the album. They're not meant to have that effect.

Helms play a style of post-rock, post-hardcore, melodic music that varies considerably between each song on this release. One moment, the music is complex and flowing, intense and upbeat, and the next it's quiet and contemplative. But the music is never simple, even on the album's quieter moments. This music is an unusual combination of June of '44's post-rock melodicism and Karate's more sparse and lovely sounds. Oh, and what a wonderful combination it is, because these songs are stellar, rocking at the right parts and lovely at others.

"The Kindness of Automatic Doors" is what it would sound like if Lou Reed was putting vocals to a June of '44 song. How's that for an out-there comparison, but that's what it reminds me of, and it works: vocals full of attitude over post-rock style melodic guitar-driven rock. It's especially powerful by the ending, when the rock really picks up and the vocals get almost shouted. And all of that is a big difference from the sparse and quiet "We Must Get There Before Dark, Follow Me," which is mostly soft vocals put to a gently and sparingly strummed guitar. I fall in love every time with the crisp and melodic guitar on "The Smallest World in the World," and it merges nicely with thick bass and drums and spoken vocals. "Ghosts with Searching Eyes" is very diverse and even somewhat experimental, flowing along one moment and breaking to almost nothing the next, with very interesting guitar lines and nice, almost jazzy rhythm. "The Television Set" is more upbeat and rocking yet still with an experimental, post-rock sense of flow and incorporation of the instrumentation. I have to admit, it does get a little odd when it gets all slow and quiet and the vocals are all about Three's Company. "Teenagers in the Woods" has a sort of quiet mood about it despite its more rocking sound, really stressed by a wash of electric guitar over lighter drums. "io" is much more melodic and deep, with some fantastic instrumentation, really creating a rolling, fluid fee. This instrumental reminds me of a more intense Pele, in many ways. And the closer, "Candy Fish," has very much of a jazzy structure, based around some powerful rhythm. And then stay tuned for the very nice, melodic and soft instrumental that ends things up.

This is really a tough album to describe. The songs are complex and intricate, which is impressive for a trio, with thickly textured drum and bass and melodic guitar and vocals that are sort of sung/spoken. These songs manage to create a mood, to create a theme, and they portray that mood wonderfully. And the songs are long, many over 6 or 8 minutes. This band falls perfectly between the rock and post-rock realms, creating music that is truly unique and enjoyable.

Just a side note: the band is named for bassist Tina Helms. But guitarist/singer Sean McCarthy and drummer Dan McCarthy are brothers. You'd think that 2/3 of the band being named McCarthy would win over 1/3 named Helms. I guess Helms just had a better ring to it.

- Jeff

>>> adequacy.net


Instant Magazine

Helms' guitarist and vocalist Sean McCarthy always sounds like he's smiling, on the verge of chuckling. Whether he's amused at the cleverness of his own songs or just a happy guy is up for debate. Either option seems equally feasible.

I imagine McCarthy sitting in his bedroom surrounded by cats and toys from his childhood that he couldn't bring himself to throw away. There are references to Micronauts, GI Joe, and Pac Man throughout Helms' new album The Swimmer. The second track, "We Must Get There Before Dark, Follow Me" takes its name from a phrase spoken by a talking GI Joe action figure, while "The Smallest World In The World" features samples of blips and bleeps from an ancient video game. It makes you wonder who was playing the game while the tape was rolling.

These examples would give one the impression that McCarthy has a hard time letting go of his childhood ("The Television Set" describes a scene from Three's Company), but Helms' music is nothing if not modern. It's so modern it's post-modern. It's whatever comes after post-rock; post-rock is so early 90's anyway. And the songs are clever. I get the feeling he writes them while watching his cats at play. They (the songs) move in a feline world, sometimes starting from a dead sleep, running out to the yard, or making a hairpin turn into the living room, other times just sitting and purring between your ears. Sean's fingers bounce around the fretboard while his brother Dan drums in every direction but straight ahead. Bassist Tina Helms manages to keep things together with her low-key playing style. Somehow it all jells. The songs may slow down, speed up, or sit around for a minute before taking off again, but it never sounds like they're not in control of the music.

Some people might not "get" Helms, but then again there might not be anything to get. Their music sometimes comes off as a personal joke. It doesn't feel exclusionary, just intimate. Like seeing a look and a smile shared between two lovers, or two brothers. -Ian Wilson Ross

>>> instantmag.com


City Pages
Minneapolis / St Paul

Sometimes you get a nostalgia crush, the kind that makes you fall for someone who looks like the sort of person you would have dated in high school. Helms are a nostalgia crush band: On their The Swimmer album (Kimchee Records), the Boston indie trio sings about Pac-Man and Three's Company episodes while playing soft and minimal music that's as intoxicating as your adolescent crushes were. (Sigh.) With the quiet-then-loud-then-quiet musical style of June of 44 paired with Sean McCarthy's Stephen Malkmus-esque, sing-speak vocals, these guys are ones to watch before they make it big. And when that happens, you can be nostalgic for the days you used to see them at the 400 Bar. (Maerz)

>>> citypages.com


fakejazz.com

Naming your band after America's biggest opponent of the arts is a risky endeavor, even if Helms actually is the last name of your drummer. Not risky in that people will think the band is a bunch of right wingers who agree with Jesse Helms' views, but risky in that people (for instance, me) will think the band is a bunch of smarty pant ruffians looking to shock you. Helms (the band) is neither of those things. In fact, they are pretty much the opposite of "a bunch of smarty pant ruffians." Helms are two brothers and a girl they know (Ms. Helms) who are not concerned about the state of the world and who is and is not a hypocrite; they just want to make you feel like you're 8 years old again. To do that, the band incorporates all the pop culture references they remember from when they were 8 years old: G.I. Joe, Micronauts, Pac-Man, Three's Company, etc. Sound bites of talking action figures and Galaga's laser guns are incorporated into the music, as well. The effect of all these kiddie references is unsettling at first, as it seems to counteract against Helms being a rock band. Perhaps a twee pop group could get away with this easily, but when musically you are more closely related to The Van Pelt or June of 44, hearing about G.I. Joe's plastic scars doesn't seem to fit with the music, at least on first listen.

Any concerns about the childhood references fade after a handful of listens as it is all a part of the imagery of the album. Helms aren't trying to relate much emotion with their music, they are just trying to evoke imagery of a time or place they've been, whether that's sitting on the floor playing with Star Wars action figures, sitting in a Venice bus station, or playing rock music. But perhaps those places and things are the purest emotions music can relate. When Helms relate the joy of playing music in "The Smallest World in the World," it comes off as a musical call to arms, urging everyone to take their amps outside and just play (maybe they are political provocateurs after all).

Perhaps it's a good thing Helms the band could care less about who shares the name. We get enough dropout propaganda from Helms' direct predecessor, Chris Leo. Compared to their predecessors, Helms' sound and style is solid but unspectacular: steady bass with loose guitar and prominent drums. However, somehow they manage to transcend any limitations in their sound, as The Swimmer is an album that can be listened to over and over. Much like those great old video games they sing about, there's no flashy graphics, just pure game-play.

File Helms between Transformers: The Movie DVD and Tropics & Meridians.

jim steed

>>> fakejazz.com


Chico News and Review

This is good stuff. Quirky as all get-out but good. Very rhythmic and melodic. If I had to compare Boston-based Helms to other groups or styles, I'd say theirs is an odd blend of Velvet Underground instrumentals and a type of free-form rock, producing intricate and almost delicate musical extrapolations. Making up the trio are brothers Sean and Dan McCarthy on guitar/vocals and drums, respectively, and Tina Helms on bass. The music here has a distinctly "single-take" quality to it, seemingly bereft of overdubs or distracting studio effects, suggesting a decidedly live sound. Kicking-off the CD is "The Kindness of Automatic Doors," the drums and bass setting up a compelling rhythm. This band seems to prefer occasional sonic spaces and lapses into near silence. On "The Television Set," after a gradual and dynamic crescendo, the music falls to near silence, over which Sean McCarthy intones, "We can watch/ TV/ with cowboys/ round the fire/ Like brave men/ with tired hearts. ..." Definitely worth a serious first listen.

John W. Young

>>> newsreview.com


Miriam Goldberg

saw them last night with tristeza. they almost made me cry, so I bought the album. listening to it right now. they're so rad.

miriam chana goldberg

>>> cs.brown.edu


Spank Fanzine

The sometimes chiming, sometimes churning guitar work provides a shifting backdrop to the artfully varied arrangements and spoken/sung vocals. Cheating easy categorization, Helms seems to move and create to meet the demands of the songs. Quiet, mournful moments are balanced with a well-timed guitar charge and a fading wall of feedback. But the interest and surprises are most evident while paying attention to their navigation of this wide spectrum.

Matt

>>> spankzine.com



Last modified: Friday, 25-Jun-2010 14:16:40 PDT

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