Helen – The Original Faces
Another autumn arrives (almost) and so comes another album from Liz Harris. Instead of another Grouper album, however, Ms. Harris has put together a dream-pop outfit called Helen that approximates the sounds of the early Nineties, when wobbly tape noises, ultra-lo-fi recording, and thick fogs of reverb were par for the course. A lot of that is, of course, stuff that Liz Harris uses seemingly every day, but the difference here is obvious. Grouper is a project that approximates folk, except drowned in dread and isolated tape artifacts. Helen is a pop group at its core, albeit one that sounds as though it was recorded live in an intimate club in the late 1980s and then left out in the rain for the past 25 years. A track like “Felt This Way” sounds like what would happen if your house caught fire and your copies of Darklands and Heaven Or Las Vegas melted into each other but were still listenable. These are, despite all of their accouterments, skeletal songs; the bass pokes through the holes in the sonics in a way that will make any aficionado of raw garage-recorded rock ‘n’ roll sit up and clap. The gain used on the guitar amps is something rather unusual for Harris, but the way that the distortion is scattered to the winds and made to suffuse the whole song – as on “Pass Me By” – is quite warm and familiar. Where the album really comes together is on “Dying All The Time”, where Harris and Co. up the racket to a near-punk fury by way of a drum line that carries all of the diffused distortion and thumping bass to an entirely different world.
If you miss noisy dream pop from the days when you were still buying it on cassette, do yourself a favour and track down a cassette copy of The Original Faces.