Let’s cut to the chase: Negotiations is a pretty dull album. In fact, it’s really dull. This is the fifth studio album from Portland-based alternative rockers The Helio Sequence, who claimed that it would be a record – announcing on their Facebook page – which would be “warmer, more organic and more ethereal” than their previous releases. Well, it’s OK, though it’s not really any of these things. I was expecting better from such an interesting band, what with cracking previous albums such as Keep Your Eyes Ahead and Love and Distance. These were excited, raucous records that ripped out the speakers: immediately likeable, thrilling tunes with jangly guitars and expressive vocals. They solidified The Helio Sequence’s status as “that unknown band that should have lots of backing tracks to cool adverts but thank God they don’t because they’re indie and really good”. It was smashing music, not something to dance to, but great to nod along to whilst riding the bus, working or relaxing.
However, Negotiations doesn’t quite measure up. When the band said they would go “minimal” with their next recording, what they ended up with was boring. Most of the songs merge into one, indecipherable from one another – having listened to the album 4 or 5 times, I still can’t tell the difference between ‘One More Time’, ‘Downward Spiral’ and ‘The Measure’. Brandon Summers’ vocals sound lacklustre, the guitars sound formulaic, and on balance rather repetitive.
Despite its overall lack of freshness or variety, this record is not a complete disaster. It doesn’t tend to measure up to the very best, cutting-edge releases, but, it’ll serve you better than most of the terrible indie fare that’s floating around the charts. Though it isn’t original, it’s easy to listen to, full of well-crafted melodies and curious lyrics (and the vinyl has got free MP3 downloads and the cover’s quite pretty, which is always a plus). There are also one or two smashing tunes on there: ‘Hall Of Mirrors’ is a dream. The swooping vocals are excellent, and the guitar riff on it alone is enough to warrant approval. ‘October’ is also a pretty decent track, energetic and easily likeable, but frankly it is standing alone in the pool of mediocrity surrounding it.
I must stress though that this is not a terrible album. I would recommend checking it out; however do so with a little caution. For sure, Negotiations has its virtues, quite a few of them. It’s just a shame; I thought that you could get a lot more out of a potentially exciting group like The Helio Sequence.
Released on 11th September 2012 by Sub Pop Records