Seattle three-piece Helms Alee has released a new album Keep This Be The Way available via Sargent House. Across the span of their first five studio albums, the trio zeroed in on different aspects of their sound - a blend of lilting siren songs, crushing Northwest thunder and sludge, angular econo-rock, and heady guitar pop while retaining their no-frills, meat-and-potatoes approach in the studio. But with this Helms Alee have expanded their palette by delving into the production possibilities afforded by recording the album themselves, creating their most dynamic and technicolored work to date.
When the pandemic hit, guitarist/vocalist Ben Verellen, bassist/vocalist Dana James, and drummer/vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis found refuge in their music and bunkered down in a makeshift studio in Verellen’s amplifier shop. Through the remainder of 2020 and into early 2021, the band wrote an album as a distraction from the surrounding turbulence, recording songs with the assistance of Ron Harrell as they were writing them, composing the material with the added benefit of hearing them come together from the engineer’s chair. Keep This Be the Way still very much sounds like a Helms Alee record, but it’s their first album that diverts from the faithful recreation of their live sound and delves into a vibrant tapestry of surreal sounds and invented spaces.
This new approach is immediately evident on album opener “See Sights Smell Smells,” where reverse cymbal crashes, fragmented piano, layered drums, woozy drones, saxophone freak-outs, and trippy vocal treatments transport the listener to an altered state of exhilarated anticipation. The song basks in studio manipulations before depositing the listeners on the shores of the title track. “Keep This Be the Way” adheres closer to standard Helms Alee operating procedures with sparkling guitar arpeggios, syncopated drum patterns, and beguiling vocal melodies in the verses juxtaposed against blown-out bottom-heavy riffs and roaring harmonies in the choruses, until the song descends into a smoky mélange of groaning bass and air-raid siren whines in the final measures. Much like the self-recorded swan song of Unwound Leaves Turn Inside You, Keep This Be the Way showcases an ability to walk the line between studio experimentation and faithful representations of the organic core of the material.