A decade into their existence, London psych collective The Heliocentrics have made a rather daring change. Those familiar with the group will know them for a distinct brand of fully instrumental free-form psych-jazz. So, for long term fans, hearing ‘A World Of Masks’ for the first time may come as something of a surprise; the group now boasts a dedicated lead vocalist and it’s a change that has left the group with a markedly different bent than any previous work.
Fundamentally, The Heliocentrics are still much same the band they’ve always been, trading in a cosmic mishmash of loose searching jazz, eastern modalism and avant-rock repetition. The Heliocentrics have long been an intriguing group, as hard to pin down as the genre they occupy. The addition of a lead vocalist, then, makes a strange sort of sense. It’s unexpected, perhaps, but that’s why it works. Both in terms of attitude and style, vocalist Barbora Patkova is an easy fit for the band. With a confident delivery and a richly flowing cadence, she’s a vocalist who allows herself to become so immersed in a song that the music seems to sing through her, rather than the other way around. The addition is one that has more of a fundamental impact on paper than in practise; The Heliocentrics are certainly a different band than they before Patkova joined their ranks, but her delivery is so in keeping with the group’s aesthetic that it’s easy to forget she hasn’t always been a member of the collective.
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Almost obsessively genre hopping, ‘A World Of Masks’ is an album that achieves its sense of trippy experimentalism not through tried and true psych cliches but rather via a genuinely individual mix of disparate styles. The locked-in bass and drum groove of the title track evokes the most freeform fringes of Hip Hop, whilst the skittish rhythms of ‘The Silverback’ suggest cosmic-jazz as filtered through the funkier end of ’70’s library music. The Heliocentrics coagulate a dizzying range of influences to form a sound not bound by any one style or time; there’s a degree of retro-futurism in the smoky atmosphere evoked on ‘Human Zoo’ but ultimately ‘A World Of Masks’ is as much a product of the modern age as some bygone era.
At times The Heliocentrics summon the same wildly exciting sense of immersive, run-away improvisation that made the German Kosmiche bands of the late ’60s and ’70s such an appealing prospect. There’s an almost deranged glee to the throes of creativity that the band find themselves in during ‘Time’ and ‘The Uncertainty Principal’. It soon becomes clear that ‘A World Of Masks’ is a record to dive into, both for the listener and for band themselves. The Heliocentrics craft such richly subversive, rippling soundscapes that it’s difficult not to be swept away by their persistent panache.
With ‘A World Of Masks’ The Heliocentrics have created an album that defiantly refuses to be pigeon-holed. It’s a refreshing listen for its almost bloody-minded individualism; psychedelia it may be, but ‘A World Of Masks’ relies on none of the genre’s cliches.