Album Review: Helium

If ain’t broke then don’t fix it. But if it’s banal…


By: Benjamin Cannon

Peter Sagar, the man behind the Canadian psychedelic-jazz project HOMESHAKE, has made a name for himself in last six years. Starting as the drummer for Mac DeMarco’s live band, Sagar decided to pursue a solo project and released the 2013 mixtapes The Homeshake Tape and Dynamic Meditation. Then, in 2015, HOMESHAKE released their sophomore album Midnight Snack. The album got a lot of buzz thanks to the lead single “Give it to Me”. Since then, he’s dropped an album every two years, and has become a well known name in the indie rock world. Staying on schedule, HOMESHAKE released their fourth album Helium last Friday. The singles that preceded Helium, “Like Mariah”, “Nothing Could Be Better”, “Just Like My”, and “Another Thing” have all been pretty solid. “Like Mariah” is a psychedelic slow-jam indebted to Currents-era Tame Impala, and “Nothing Could Be Better” & “Another Thing” are more of the cool but calculated bops that we’ve come to expect from Sagar.

While he’s more oriented towards neo-psychedelia this time around, Sagar is relying on the same old tricks. Helium is filled to the brim with cheesy sound effects, pitch-shifted interludes, and moody guitars. Sagar’s songwriting still consists of hazy, sinuous melodies, performed either in a casual mumble or a cooed falsetto. The only track with any notable experimentation is “All Night Long”, which incorporates a eerie synthline that serves as a leitmotif. However, it barely fits into the song — let alone the rest of the album. Additionally, past the interlude “All Night Long”, track sequencing has no rhyme or rhythm as Helium sporadically bounces back in forth between energy levels. Altogether, the record is as pleasant & unique as HOMESHAKE’s past work. But at the same time, Helium comes off as stale and uninspired.

In all honesty, I’ve been struggling to write this review. Not because of time constraints, but because there is just nothing to say about this record. If you’re even the slightest bit familiar with the discography of HOMESHAKE, then you’ve already heard everything this record has to offer. There is no innovation in Sagar’s formula. On the one hand, if you already like HOMESHAKE, then you will be happy Sagar is doing what’s expected of him. Ultimately, if you wanted him to try to push the sound of HOMESHAKE in a new direction (or really any direction at all), then there is no reason to return to this album.

I often found myself wondering if there was a desire to make something more experimental or meaningful this time around. Despite being a proud slacker, Sagar has a pronounced love of music. The ability to blend a myriad of eclectic influences and create an idiosyncratic style is impressive on its own. Despite this, the novelty of that sound is wearing off. On “Nothing Could Be Better”, the late-album highlight & second single, Sagar’s falsetto wraps itself around MIDI plucks and lax 808s, creating a sense of timelessness that I thought would be found throughout this release. But I didn’t. Instead, Helium is thirty-five minutes of forgettable, smooth jazz wallpaper. It exists liminally between the concept of good and bad, lacking the spine required to be either.

Grade: C-


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