Release Date: Jun 18, 2013
Record label: Manimal Vinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Heavy Metal, Neo-Psychedelia, Doom Metal, Sludge Metal
When Roky Erickson sang “I Walked With A Zombie” on his 1981 album with the Aliens, The Evil One, the drawling croak of the Texas psych-rock hero gave the impression of a man in recovery. He’d had his B-movie horror moment but gotten out alive. When Heliotropes covered the same song in the fall of 2012, Jessica Numsuwankijkul’s dazed, disaffected singing made it seem like not only had she not escaped the walking dead—she’d become one of them.
Brooklyn’s Heliotropes originally formed around a Craigslist posting looking for likeminded musicians to jam on Brian Eno covers, but they’ve since wandered off down a dark, hazy cave. The all-female four-piece now hew more closely to stoner rock and psychedelia, their layered atmospherics working in the service of dark, chugging beasts. Their debut LP A Constant Sea carries the weight of a psychological horror film, a slow, oppressive haunting that occasionally explodes into poltergeist terror.
On their debut full-length, A Constant Sea, Brooklyn-based quartet Heliotropes extract all the doom from doom metal, all the sludge from sludge metal, and all the red-eyed confusion from stoner metal, and siphon it into an aloof and arid hybrid that lacks any metal impulses at all, retaining the weighty dread without sacrificing restraint in terms of volume or overstatement. Falling somewhere between the punishing guitar tones of doom metal's slickest shredders and the psyched-out wasteland of early drug-obsessed droners like Spacemen 3 and Opal, and bearing hints of the '90s Seattle grunge that followed, Heliotropes have made some of the heaviest indie rock available. The bar is set high right away, with rippers like "Psalms" offering churning riffs, overpoweringly drony solos, and vocal melodies with the same witchy timbre as Courtney Love's best Live Through This moments.
When you’re young, when you’re restless to expend the energy bristling inside your post-pubescent body, and have the effects of this expenditure reflected tangibly back at you, the objects constituting the world can seem like A Constant Sea, that is, can all present themselves indistinguishably as little more than points of reference or mediation for your own overflowing fervor and exuberance. Conversely, when you’re young, when your post-pubescent body is saturated by the angst, frustration, and insecurity that inevitably arises from not being able to exhibit its vitality, or simply from a lack of such vitality, the objects constituting the world can seem like A Constant Sea, that is, can all present themselves indistinguishably as little more than reminders of your own deflation and frailty. This — for want of a more interesting preamble — is why it’s doubly helpful that Heliotropes have settled on the name they have for their debut, since it’s an album mired both in the unbounded excitability of immaturity and in its confusion and uncertainty.
Music critics don’t know what to do with all-female bands. This year’s critical hysteria over Savages is a shining example. What is in reality a pretty middling rehash of post-punk that has about a fraction of the vitality and intellect of first-wave artists of the genre is being heralded as a beacon of artistry for some confounding reason. It’s a cynical view, but part of me feels like Savages—and many female bands—are treated as novelties just because seeing an all-female band is still such a rare occurrence.
Three songs into the debut from this Brooklyn quartet, the listener may mark A Constant Sea as one of those pretty LPs from an all-female group that’s indistinguishable from any number of like-minded girl groups emerging to strummed guitars and reverb vocals dusted with shoegaze glaze. But not so fast, dear listeners. After the third track “Christine” floats past like a lost Julee Cruise track on soulful blues guitar and vintage 50s’ keys, the LP takes a surprising but effective turn into heavy, murky territory.