The similarly vibrant orange cover of Homeshake’s sophomore album, Midnight Snack, is delicately brushed to the bottom of my trustiest surfboard. The board rips, the album rips, and I realised that that album threw me into the rabbit-hole of music that is inescapable now. The reason this is relevant is because no positive bias that may have seeped from this realisation could make Helium an enjoyable album, as unfortunate as it is to admit it.
Helium continues along the path that Fresh Air began trundling down, a more electronic direction that sees the signature slacker guitar tone and drumming of his first few projects become harder and harder to find. It was refreshing to hear Sagar step away from the acoustics on Fresh Air, but on Helium it sounds as if he’s recycled every synth tone, drum pattern and chord progression from the past with now even smaller variation.
Even if Helium is distanced from his former endeavours, it still crawls with glaring issues. Notably, the album is meaninglessly structured with four unnecessary interludes that do nothing but act as sad echoes of the mediocre song previous or following, making Helium so much more of a chore than it should be. Sagar’s usually charming, untrained voice now grates with the lack of any solid instrumental accompaniment, and his aimless croons about clichéd topics such as the influence of technology and the consequent confusion fall incredibly flat. Opening track, “Anything at All”, and the saccharine lesson in one chord, “Nothing Could Be Better”, are perfect examples of this as they fall into repetitive monotony. “All Night Long” gets an honourable mention for being one of the most heinous attempts at being “spooky” I’ve heard with its distasteful minor twinkles.
The leading single, “Like Mariah”, is actually quite fantastic and dangerously ignited my dormant fanboyism for the new album, reminding me almost uncannily of songs like “Call Me Up” on Fresh Air. It’s a shame I pre-ordered Helium after listening to that one song, because it doesn’t get any better than that. However, the layered, guitar-driven chiller, “Other Than”, and the concluding, jangly “(Secret Track)” show some potential to what could have been had Sagar tried to be a little different.
I’ve learned a lot from Helium, mainly about how highly we view our favourite artists and their works through skewed shades. It took me months to realise that Fresh Air wasn’t the phenomenal follow up to Midnight Snack, and that I liked the idea of it being a great album more than the album itself. Helium has left me with nothing to toss up, free of the burden of expectation and hype, and allows me to confidently say that it isn’t very good.
Five stars for constructively building my self-awareness though.