Rating: 4 stars
HOMESHAKE is the recording project of musician Peter Sagar who has released three previous albums under the title. On his fourth album “Helium,” the Montreal based artist sounds quite unlike any of his previous work, entering a quieter, more mature territory that is perfect for that late evening, post-party mood.
“Helium” doesn’t do away with its influence of rhythm and blues and the funky grooves that HOMESHAKE is known for. Instead, the album mixes these sounds with other interesting directions, like the hip-hop instrumentation on “All Night Long” and the ambient sizzle on the interlude “Trudi and Lou.” There is also a leaning toward more pop vocals on tracks like “Just Like My” which is an exemplary track for how the whole album tends to sound.
“Helium” is a strong contender for HOMESHAKE’s most intimate project and this is not difficult to notice at almost any point in the album. The minimalist instrumentation, under mellow crooning from Sagar, is at its most compelling on tracks like “Anything At All,” which may be the most up-tempo song on the album. The song is enjoyable because of the ascending and descending guitar which has a crisp tone and repeats throughout the whole song, giving the track some grounding and allowing Sagar to sing delicately over it.
“All Night Long” holds up the middle of the album and is a sort of oasis in the midst of two ambient interludes that give this song a sense of importance. As previously mentioned, an arpeggiating synth line adds a hip-hop type groove which intermingles with lazy, drifting synths and similarly listless and melodic vocals. Tracks like this lack the hallmark funky bass and drums from previous albums, but are still compelling for their more heart-wrenching and personal qualities if HOMESHAKE has them.
If there was a return to the sound of HOMESHAKE-past it would be the track “Just Like My,” which is also the track that references the album title “Helium.” As one of the singles released prior to the full-length album, this track has a pop melody that mixes well with the bustling drumline underneath which insists on, despite all resistance, you nodding your head or dancing along.
While the album has high points like the songs previously mentioned, the highest point occurs on the eleventh track, “Another Thing” which showcases a more fully realized vision. The lead synth line is bouncy and alluring, and the percussion is bare minimum but again so arresting. Just when the song has pulled its listener in far enough, the chorus emerges with an exhilarating arpeggiating synth that causes the mood of the song to bloom and succeed in a pleasant and inescapable sweetness.
HOMESHAKE rarely disappoints, given their consistent R&B influenced synth-pop output on their previous three albums. On “Helium” they approach a mellower sound, one that fits a mood of a rainy night more than the hip indie party sound on their previous albums. At its best, this album is mellow and personal and in between these highlights, it is carried by a more atmospheric and ambient mood that one can lose interest from, but then that aimless drifting may be encouraged.