Helms – The Swimmer

The Swimmer

I’ve listened to The Swimmer several times now, and none of these songs stick in my head. I can never remember them afterwards. Does that mean they’re not good? No, rather it means they’re not simple, catchy pop music. These songs are much more complex than that, both lyrically and musically. I’d challenge you to find yourself singing along to a Helms song long after playing the album. They’re not meant to have that effect.
Helms play a style of post-rock, post-hardcore, melodic music that varies considerably between each song on this release. One moment, the music is complex and flowing, intense and upbeat, and the next it’s quiet and contemplative. But the music is never simple, even on the album’s quieter moments. This music is an unusual combination of June of ’44’s post-rock melodicism and Karate’s more sparse and lovely sounds. Oh, and what a wonderful combination it is, because these songs are stellar, rocking at the right parts and lovely at others.
“The Kindness of Automatic Doors” is what it would sound like if Lou Reed was putting vocals to a June of ’44 song. How’s that for an out-there comparison, but that’s what it reminds me of, and it works: vocals full of attitude over post-rock style melodic guitar-driven rock. It’s especially powerful by the ending, when the rock really picks up and the vocals get almost shouted. And all of that is a big difference from the sparse and quiet “We Must Get There Before Dark, Follow Me,” which is mostly soft vocals put to a gently and sparingly strummed guitar. I fall in love every time with the crisp and melodic guitar on “The Smallest World in the World,” and it merges nicely with thick bass and drums and spoken vocals. “Ghosts with Searching Eyes” is very diverse and even somewhat experimental, flowing along one moment and breaking to almost nothing the next, with very interesting guitar lines and nice, almost jazzy rhythm. “The Television Set” is more upbeat and rocking yet still with an experimental, post-rock sense of flow and incorporation of the instrumentation. I have to admit, it does get a little odd when it gets all slow and quiet and the vocals are all about Three’s Company. “Teenagers in the Woods” has a sort of quiet mood about it despite its more rocking sound, really stressed by a wash of electric guitar over lighter drums. “io” is much more melodic and deep, with some fantastic instrumentation, really creating a rolling, fluid fee. This instrumental reminds me of a more intense Pele, in many ways. And the closer, “Candy Fish,” has very much of a jazzy structure, based around some powerful rhythm. And then stay tuned for the very nice, melodic and soft instrumental that ends things up.
This is really a tough album to describe. The songs are complex and intricate, which is impressive for a trio, with thickly textured drum and bass and melodic guitar and vocals that are sort of sung/spoken. These songs manage to create a mood, to create a theme, and they portray that mood wonderfully. And the songs are long, many over 6 or 8 minutes. This band falls perfectly between the rock and post-rock realms, creating music that is truly unique and enjoyable.
Just a side note: the band is named for bassist Tina Helms. But guitarist/singer Sean McCarthy and drummer Dan McCarthy are brothers. You’d think that 2/3 of the band being named McCarthy would win over 1/3 named Helms. I guess Helms just had a better ring to it.