Helms Alee - Noctiluca
After more than a decade of existence, five studio albums, and a slew of EPs, it's easy to imagine Helms Alee continuing on in perpetuity as one of those tightly-guarded artists with an extensive catalog of treasures just waiting for the uninitiated to discover the depths of their riches. But things are going to change with the release of their fifth album, Noctiluca; the album continues Helms Alee's tradition of blending girthy sludge riffs, deceptively clever compositions, lush instrumentation, and transcendental melodies into a potent standalone sound and proves why the band has rightfully stuck around all these years. Starting with album opener "Interachnid," Helms Alee displays their multifaceted approach with Hozoji Matheson-Margullis's eight-armed drum patterns underpinning thunderous walls of fuzz distortion provided by bassist Dana James and guitarist Ben Verellen, with Verellen's barrel-chested roar serving as a counterpoint to the siren song vocals provided by Mathenson-Margullis and James. The balance between knuckle-dragging force and transcendent beauty fluctuates throughout the record, with songs like "Beat Up" operating on single-minded aggression, while songs like "Pandemic" completely eschew the heavy-handed approach in favor of blissed out dream pop. "Spider Jar" still sounds like the more subdued side of Helms Alee in many ways-jangling Jazzmaster guitars and tom-heavy drum patterns set against soaring vocals-but never before has the band sounded so authoritative with such straightforward arrangements. Inspired by the bioluminescent marine algae of the same name, Noctiluca pays tribute to the oceanic themes that has pervaded Helms Alee's music. The marine reference is perhaps the closest approximation to their sound: mysterious, magical, and providing light in the darkness. Helms Alee have always been able to jump between the sublime and the savage, but with the aid of producer/engineer Sam Bell (Minus the Bear, R.E.M., The Cars), the band pushes their various methods to new extremes on Noctiluca.