HOMESHAKE is a lo-fi, indie pop singer/songwriter from Montreal, Quebec. He debuted in 2013 with two mixtapes, The Homeshake Tape and Dynamic Meditation. He gained something of an underground following which eventually lead to his departure from Mac DeMarco’s band in 2014 and the release of his debut LP, In The Shower. His follow up, Midnight Snack came about a year later followed by Fresh Air in 2017. Over the years, he’s transitioned from a slightly indie-tinged, guitar pop act to a more lo-fi experimental project. Helium is his latest effort, and it leaves quite a bit to be desired.
The album does have quite a bit going for it, not the least of which is ambition. The Seinfeld-esque bass guitar on “Like Mariah,” is a creative touch and “Other Than,” utilizes an interesting siren loop which fades in and out across the entirety of the track. There are plenty of moments like this, where HOMESHAKE seems to have the ambition needed to experiment with a large pallet, and though they don’t always work all that well, it’s fun to hear him try new things.
There are even a few genuinely well put together cuts on Helium. “All Night Long,” is an enjoyable, lo-fi track that features some great, subtle instrumentation. On the other hand, “Just Like My,” and “Nothing Could Be Better,” range from shimmering to ethereal, each full of strong creative decisions and set to fun grooves.
There are even a couple impressive interludes. “Heartburn” is relaxed and features a pleasing roll of wind chimes, while the most daring piece on the record comes in the form of the 90-second, “Salu Says Hi.” The chaotic spoken pieces drape over the droning instrumental well and the bouncing effects near the end are quite intriguing. Unfortunately, it’s on the topic of interludes where we find our first issue.
It should stated that there are far too many of these short instrumentals between tracks, and several of them seem either to be padding the runtime or like they’d fit better as intros to the next track. Beyond this, the opener, “Early,” for example, is just plain boring, with almost nothing happening for the entire 90 seconds.
Boring is a term that applies to much of this album. “Anything At All,” and the closer, “(Secret Track),” are perhaps the worst offenders as their entire runtime seems completely devoid of ideas. One great quality of electronic and lo-fi music is the many subtle layers, each with its own progression, leaving much to be uncovered on repeat listens. Much of Helium however, seems to be the absolute bare minimum, with little thought put into the melodies or especially the underpinning pieces.
In addition, The vocal performances are most just passable at best and frustrating at worst. “Another Thing,” for example, has some of the worst vocals on the album. Some of this may have worked the vocals had been heavily produced and used as another element, not the focus, but with a relatively dry lead, the shortcomings just can’t be ignored.
Worst of all, though, is HOMESHAKE’s insistance on repetitive sound effects, worst of all, the static. Several tracks are saddled with this backing static, though the “Trudi and Lou,” interlude and “Couch Cushion,” spring to mind as especially egregious examples where one, bland static is played behind the entire track. Something like waves on the ocean may have done this slightly better as at least there is some variance, but this static is omnipresent in the mix and absolutely lifeless.
As the album wraps up, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. While I’ve never been massively invested in HOMESHAKE’s work, Helium did seem to be striking on a vein that could yield very unique and interesting results. Unfortunately, he stops short and only delivers a surface level collection lo-fi wallpaper with only the hint of further depth.
Helium may be a promising sign for the future, but in the present, it’s hardly worth a second glance.