Release Date: Jun 23, 2015
Record label: Pan
There's a surprise near the end of Helm's latest album. The producer is best known for his glowering industrial soundscapes, but "Strawberry Chapstick" is something else entirely: a spoken word piece (perhaps salvaged from YouTube) in which the narrator spends four minutes outlining the mundane details of their life. "I'm gonna tell you a little bit about myself today," it begins, the voice so quiet and close to the microphone that every lip-smack and enunciation rings out.
Olympic Mess is Luke Younger's third outing for the ever-stunning PAN imprint, tailing closely behind last year's The Hollow Organ EP and the stupefying Impossible Symmetry album from the year before that. Apparently inspired by a lengthy period in which the artist immersed himself in genres as diverse as loop-fuelled industrial, dub techno and Balearic disco, this album finds Younger's corroded electro-acoustic Weltschmerz tamed by smoother, more musical tones and an overall lightened constitution. "I Exist in a Fog" begins with harrowing drones and squelching, but by mid-point evolves into a hypnotic cascade of synthetic chords, while the appealingly sequenced frequencies of the title track disguise minute shards of static buried deep inside the mix.
A sense of unease characterizes Luke Younger's music as Helm—sonically and also, perhaps, conceptually. His music fits loosely into categories like ambient, drone, noise, and industrial, yet in interviews, he takes pains to stress that it's not reducible to any of those descriptors. His music is frequently darkly foreboding, but he insists that it isn't "intentionally dark," as he told The Wire, and he is careful to keep the usual industrial clichés at arm's length: "I've never played with suggestive or dark imagery.
Olympic Mess is British sound artist Luke Younger's most rhythmic, structured album yet, building on the intricately constructed experiments of previous albums such as Impossible Symmetry and focusing on more loop-based compositions. The results are still as dark and droning as before, but here they seem more clear and shimmering, if not exactly sunnier. The album's centerpiece is "Outerzone 2015," 12 minutes of hollowed-out Basic Channel-like dub which starts out with a clouded, throbbing rhythm before clearing out to shifting textures and rapidly bowed strings.
For going on 10 years, Luke Younger’s Helm has been a reliable source of unequivocal natural state alteration. As ever, the project is a winner off the bat for producing material where no one track resembles the other. Olympic Mess raises the bar, however, in a fashion set off by the invitingly tactile, yet nevertheless challenging work of the past three years (mostly for the unstoppable PAN label).
Up until now, charting the avant-garde noise experimentation of Londoner Luke Younger, who as well as performing and recording as Helm runs the always-excellent Alter label, tended to lead journos (including myself) down the rather lazy path of exploring the man's supposed psychogeographic leanings. It's not that one can't find hidden maps to London's reverse nestled between the drones and clanks of records like 2011's Cryptography or his masterful PAN debut Impossible Symmetry, it's just not really the most interesting way to approach Younger's work, which is infinitely more intricate and multi-layered. Still, there were certainly echoes of East London, as envisioned through the prism of post-Throbbing Gristle noise and industrial, on Impossible Symmetry, which occasionally read like the dark underbelly to even dubstep's withdrawn embrace of the UK capital's vibrant club scene.