Three years and a major vocal injury since their last release, the Portland duo have settled down into a smoother, more relaxed vibe. When singer Brandon Summers shredded his voice, The Helio Sequence had to adjust their bombastic sound or face permanent damage to him and the band. Their second album for Sub Pop, Keep Your Eyes Ahead, maintains the essence of their distinctively produced sound while turning in a more mindful and endearing direction.
Keep Your Eyes Ahead plays off of the band’s psychedelic past well and employs rich melodies where vocal-less walls of sound might have existed before. The opening track, “Lately”, is full of shimmering guitars and cascading drums, which have always been key to their sound, but Summer’s vocals tell a not-looking-back story with a mature and affecting delivery. On “The Captive Mind”, Summer matches the quick-stepping drum pace with a steely, but agile, vocal drive of his own. Guitars spin with tornadic danger while he chides a cheap existence of the Mandalay Bay and its artificial beach. “You Can Come To Me” neatly mixes Nintendo-esque electronics with an acoustic ballad that climaxes with the vocal track churning with guitars and drums, when it might have been left behind on past efforts.
One way that Summers occupied his time while resting his voice was by reading a Bob Dylan book, and however that may have affected him, it certainly did on this album. On “Lately”, he toys with the trademark Dylan vocal swoop, while “Broken Afternoon” is a huge nod to the legend in several regards as a shuffling acoustic guitar guides his gritty moral observations. Summers’ voice reflects Dylan often on Keep Your Eyes Ahead in a worthy tribute.
While it has several intriguing elements, Keep Your Eyes Ahead is perhaps most charming because of it’s variety. Acoustic ballads give way to expansive driving tracks like the momentous “Hallelujah”. The title track skips by with a pace that’s both immediate and infectious while the next track, “Back To This” is a sleek, electronics-soaked groove with a far more subdued feel.
Given the time and effort spent on Keep Your Eyes Ahead, the Oregonian duo still successfully evolves and deepens their reach. Effects have been toned down somewhat to lend Summer’s voice more space, and it’s a smooth adjustment. It’s the band’s most complex album to date, and they certainly keep pushing ahead.