This Helen ‘The Original Faces’ was written by Fraisia Dunn, a GIGsoup contributor
Helen is a kind of super-group made up of Grouper’s Liz Hinton on lead guitar and vocals, Jed Bindeman of Eternal Tapestry on guitar and bass and Scott Simmons of Eat Skull on drums. There is also a credit for a mysterious Helen on backing vocals. Helen was started as a thrash band, but they have been put under the spell of 90s shoegaze instead.
The group put out a AA side in 2013 featuring ‘Felt This Way’ and ‘Dying All The Time’, both present on this album, and have been working on their LP, ‘The Original Faces’ for a couple of years. The result is more of a feeling than a series of songs. The vocals are indistinct and hard to decipher, the scraps that you can catch tell you nothing, but the lines you can’t hear are surely woven of the most golden poetry. The guitar, bass and drums dance between surf rock, jangle pop and post-punk. Never resting, they’re always obscuring and revealing each other like passing clouds.
This album is like a memory of a really good day when you were a teenager: someone was probably saying something profound, but you were too busy looking at the dust motes dancing in a ray of sun. ‘The Original Faces’ is a grungy, dream pop-like LP. Full of reverb, the hazy vocals glance off of each other, pulling you into some sublime unknown.
There are several inter-tracks that hint at shadows and alter-egos. The LP starts with ‘Ryder’. We hear about a minute of detuned acoustic guitar, looping, growing gradually stretched until the cassette player switches off to reveal the driving shoegaze fuzz of guitar before the drums and vocals kick in, calling to you like a Lynchian siren. This track immediately melts into the second, ‘Motorcycle’ with washes of gentle guitar that tickle the toes of the 60s.
The penultimate song on the album, ‘Violet’, starts with a mellow bassline and driven indie-pop guitar and drums. The vocal is sheathed in beautiful clouds of distortion. The bass and guitar fade off leaving Liz’s vocals twining with the mysterious Helen’s, still inaudible, ghostly. Again, the cassette is turned off and a few seconds of something played in reverse comes on, almost as if Helen recorded over something else – something darker. Is this some strange voodoo in the guise of something more wholesome?
The overall effect is quite theatrical: none of the songs necessarily stand up on their own, but as an experience it is quite sublime. For daydreams, car rides and solitary bedroom introspection, you can’t go wrong. Liz Hinton is allowing a sunnier, more vague and carefree side of herself to peek through the clouds here. This is a grand mess of a record that will be listened to again and again as the nights draw in and the memories of summer fade.
‘The Original Faces’ was released on Kranky on 4 September 2015.