Friends can give some of the best suggestions when it comes to music. They (hopefully) know what you’re into so when they come to you with something they think “is right up your alley” there’s more weight behind that suggestion than some random person shoving it in your face (I’m aware of the irony in this statement). So when a friend suggested that I absolutely HAD to listen to the new Helms Alee album Sleepwalking Sailors, my reaction was, “…Who?”
Yeah, so I had no idea who this band was. I hadn’t heard any of their material at all. But I trusted my friend. I took him at his word and streamed the album. After my first playthrough, I sat back and came to a conclusion: I absolutely had to hear the band’s other material. But since I’m here to tell you about Sleepwalking Sailors, let’s dive into that, shall we?
Hitting play on “Pleasure Center”, I was intrigued by the overdriven guitar melody and sparse yet thunderous drums. Suddenly, huge fuzzy bass and thick guitars washed over me like a tsunami wave. I was already hooked into this album by the tones of the instruments. But what got me even more thrilled was the dynamic vocal approach of guitarist/vocalist Ben Verellen and the complex, fascinating songwriting. For an opener, the track did exactly what it was supposed to do, which is entice me, thrill me, and get me excited for more.
The next track, “Tumescence”, showcased the band’s ability to to work with odd time signatures. In this case, the song revolves around 5/4 time. Even stranger is that it will use it in blocks of three, giving this a very uneven, unpredictable feel. Verellen’s screams are ferocious and throat grabbingly intense during the chorus while bassist Dana James and drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis share vocal duties on the verse, creating some hypnotic harmonies.
“Pinniped” demonstrates the diversity. So far, the music has been almost a sludge/grunge/metal but this track introduces an almost alt-rock feel that got my foot tapping and head nodding. Jumping forward, the first two minutes of “Slow Beef”, my personal favorite track, have an eerie ambience created with loads of reverb, delay, and volume swells. It’s a beautiful intro and I found myself repeating it multiple times, relishing every listen.
Due to how fuzzy and dirty the instruments often sound, it’s easy to think that this album has a raw, unpolished feel to it. However, with some closer listening you can hear that this was intentional. Everything is actually wonderfully mixed and the tones are fantastically utilized. They crafted this leviathan and it’s beautiful, graceful, and dangerous.
The Final Word: Not only is this one of the most diverse and interesting albums I’ve heard in a long time, Helm’s Alee‘s Sleepwalking Sailors is also one of the most addictive. I put in on just to hear a few tracks and not a day goes by that I can’t listen to at least a few tracks.
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