A Constant Sea
Review by Kent Manthie
Heliotropes is a band that is based out of Brooklyn. Made up of four women, though who come from all over the US – wildly differing places such as West Virginia, California and New Jersey. In 2009 they got together in NYC when vocalists Jessica Numsuwankijkul and Amber Myers placed an ad on Craigslist, looking to find “like-minded Brooklyn musicians to play Brian Eno covers”(!) Now that, right there, sounds like a very auspicious beginning. The rest, I guess, is history-in-the-making.
When the quartet ultimately got together, Heliotropes ended up ditching the whole Eno-cover idea and turned into a heavier, more rock-pop-oriented band with a golden sound. In 2011 they released the first of three seven inchers, honed their sound a little more and then, in 2012, Los Angeles label Manimal Vinyl signed them, Manimal is a
n indie label that also features such names as Bat For Lashes, Warpaint, Sister Crayon among others.
2013 has been a rather busy year for this burgeoning, young but intense and powerful band. They recorded what is going to be released in late June as A Constant Sea, their debut full-length, at Converse Rubber Tracks Studio in Brooklyn, they appeare
d at SXSW in Austin, TX as an “official Red Bull Sound Select Artist” (how’s that for some corporate-insinuation?) and after the “indie/unsigned circus” in Austin, Heliotropes started off on a tour of their own around the US, with Esben and The Witch on the bill.
Well, first off, I want to say how amazed I was when I hit “play” for this new CD. From the first, A Constant Sea has this really enveloping sound that somehow pulls you in, it’s something about the structure of the chords, the atmosphere of the production, the rhythm and a synergy that takes them all and makes something great out of
the parts. The opening cut, “Everyone Else” is what kept me listening. It’s ana
logous to reading a new book – when you open it up and start reading from page one, you almost instantly get a feel for the way it’s going to read here on out. That’s the way “Everyone Else” was for A Constant Sea. It was the opening few pages of a book that turns out to be a real “page-turner”, so to speak. I fell in love with that sound right away and tho
ught to myself, “great, I’ve struck gold, amidst a lot of bronze in this new music quarry”.
After the first three songs or so the music started to branch out and it was then I realized that there was a lot more to them than the evanescent foam of the opening. T
he album gets pretty psychedelic and it’s all just done with guitars, drums and bass. No tinkering with computers or synthesizers, etc. They didn’t need to in order to make a lushly, diverse artwork. Song number nine, “Psalms” is a guitar-driven tune with a tigh
t-sounding realm, but a style that had no bounds, no set standard, which made experimenting easy. On “Joy Unfolds” one can hear a little Kim Gordon being unleashed, vocal-wise, especially toward the end of it. Then, take “Ribbons”; track 10. It too is a bathed in neopsychedelia, painted with a black brush on one end and a multi-colored-dipped stick in between and all-around. Then on “The Dove” there are even a couple guitar riffs which recall Black Sabbath at their apogee (circa 1972). The albu
m ends with the beautiful, lullaby-like “Unadorned”; an apt title for a song that only features harmonized vocals, an acoustic guitar, except for the last few measures of the song, when a twangy electric is brought in to kiss you to sleep.
As of this writing the band consists of the two aforementioned vocalists: Jessi
ca Numsuwankijkul, who plays guitar as well as sings and Amber Myers who,
besides singing, also provides “percussion”; also in the band are Cici Harrison on the drums and Nya Abudu on bass. It is the classic “rock” lineup: vocals, guitar, bass & drums (plus assorted percussion). With this range you can’t go wrong, especially when you have the talent to make whatever limitations get in your way work fo
r you as opposed to against you.
This album is definitely going to be one that sticks out well as one of 2013’s best, most memorable and well-made albums. When you have to go through mountains of new CDs by indie artists who are doing their own stuff either DIY or on a small(er) l
abel, there’s always going to be a lot of them that fall into the “OK, I guess…”-category. That is like, the average. But, every now and then…BAM – something you listen to just hits you right in the face with a pleasurable pain. A Constant Sea is one of those: it is catchy – infectious even – and it has a real groundswell of edgy poptones wh
ich just captivates you from the start. This one will be a great soundtrack to your summer this year, whether it’s sitting inside your air conditioned pad, beating the heat or diving into it and driving around or kicking it at the beach, A Constant Sea will definitely please. So far this year I’ve had a lot of stuff to review but not all of it has been this good. It may sound corny but I think one could say this is a “feel-good” album. Make of that what you will, but I know I came away from it feeling better than I did before I listened to it. Heliotropes might not have done any whiz-bang electronic jitterbugging on A Constant Sea, but I think Brian Eno would still be happy with it himself; and I know I, for one, am happy that Heliotropes decided not to be an Eno cover band. It sounds good on a bar napkin – for a minute. But when you think about it, wouldn’t it be better (than doing covers) if Eno, himself produced it? Or better yet, just do the music that comes to you. Create, don’t emulate! -KM