Helicon – Suburban Decay (2013)

Having been (A) blown away by and (B) incurred neck pain due to vigorous head nodding thanks to the heavy space rock grooves of Glasgow band Helicon at Roadhouse in Manchester buying an album became a top priority. Suburban Decay isn’t a studio album but a collection of EPs. This does mean that you get an album bigger than a redneck’s bucket of KFC when NASCAR’s in town.

Let’s start with the best track on the album…

‘The Dabbler’ has glassy, shimmering bass of a danceable post punk revival band of say, The Bravery but with a growing noisy intensity that lot could only dream of between sociology lectures. But… underneath the delicious groove is a shot-blast of spoken word Glaswegian incisor poetry. This is exhilarating stuff. Imagine a Scottish John Cooper Clarke spitting out invectives backed by Joy Division. if that doesn’t tickle yer pickle then I’m sorry but maybe we can’t be friends. Delivery and words come together in a shamanic tango of wordsmithery…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk1sSwtYUzU

You lie, you cheat, you’re broken, you’re beat
A liar on his knees, you had the world at your feet
You sweat, you shake, you lie, wide awake
In your self-pity prison, the doubts have arisen
You’re fucked, you’re drugged, you burn and you’re scum
It takes a sleight of hand you can no longer turn
You try, to sleep, you cower, you’re weak
A shit-bag’s cries, fall on deaf ears, this is the fuckin’ sum of all your fears

Dark bags, hide eyes, once bluer, than sky
Every time your mouth opens you know it’s more fuckin lies
Write off, you’re broke, inhale a deep, long toke
Stare blank, exhale, you’re programmed to fail
Isolation’s your friend, self-destruction your end
You’ve changed, they said, are they fucking with your head?
Fat hypocrites sneer, living lies, behind middle-class fronts
You’re fucked, you’re a drunk, you low life, you cunt

Collateral damage, your indifference; savage
Insults that once held weight, no longer worth the debate
You’ll hide, you’ll run, a ghost’s shadow in the sun
If they listen, you’ll boast, but your comeuppance is in the fuckin post
An image, created, to massage an ego, inflated
Your shit drugs; diluted, poisonous as the air you polluted
Your heart, it pounds, it bursts, through your chest
You’re mental, you said, but the fuckin’ truth son; you’re a dabbler, at best

… one thing is clear: Helicon are no dabbler, they’re in it up to their damn necks.

A selection of the tracks on Suburban Decay sound indebted to The Brian Jonestown Massacre, but while there are gazillions of paisley wearing, floppy haired BJM knock-offs floating around these days, these stand out due to the quality of the tracks. Opener ‘The Point Between Heaven And Hell’ is a long, bejewelled marathon of jangling guitars and hazy harmony. Spun with care, style and precise pacing this is an exquisite way to start the album. Title track ‘Suburban Decay’ starts with what sounds like a harmonia and winds up like Nico jamming with the Bunnymen. The introduction of droning textures works incredibly well for Helicon and with the addition of stomping near-distance drums this is a superlative example of sleepy psychedelia. ‘Panic, Everything Is OK’, ‘Truth Or Consequence’ and ‘Hiding In The Shadows’ offer more of the same, with the latter being a twitchy tower of crisp beats and energy clusters from the guitars. ‘Waves Of Trauma’ offers an enchanting duet of vocals over a night-time inner-space trip reminiscent of Mazzy Star.

‘Size 5 Delta’ has the glide of a The Black Angels helicopter gunship ride over VIetnam with the last party in town shuffle of Happy Monday. Smeared guitars fleck messy daubs over a silky rhythm section. What I like about Helicon is, like The Fall, when they have a good idea they know just how to long to spin it out for without the thread thinning. ‘Black Resin’ stomps in like a T Rex covered in oil. Heavy duty riffs grind out over a 8 minutes, like a gruelling forced march at the behest of a gang of T100s. Hmm, I wonder if that’s what the cover refers to?

Then ‘Since Always’ saunters in, gentle acoustic guitars and lonely strings. Soft vocals offer a pop song while swirling effects weave a rather lovely psychedelic ditty. Pleasant without being trite, this shows the careering mood swings of Helicon. ‘Emily’ continues the trend with shoegaze shards of icy noise over subdued drums and spy chase bass. Like peering into a kaleidoscope, this is a reflective rainbow of colours.

Finally, Helicon pay dues to Neu! with a cover of ‘Hallogallo’. While most bands use the krautrock legends ideas, it’s rather nice that Helicon actually go the whole hog and pay tribute. Their version is as crisp as a cold cider from the fridge with icy scratches of guitar and bass that wounds like warm treacle. Maybe a little too faithful, it would have been interesting to hear the band kick out the jams on the number, rough it up a little.

A king sized collection of songs that takes in various styles of psych while never sounding like the vast ranks of copycats, there is a lot of excellent material here. Catching their live show suggests the future lies with space rock, with the band utilising a double drum hammering. A talent for songwriting and performance, lashings of style and a potent live show makes Helicon a band to look out for when they visit you on tour and finally drop a studio album.

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