By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
Local scene veteran Sunyatta Marshall (Fred's Variety Group) leads the Helium Tapes, a quartet with a flair for dark-tinted power pop and dense, swirling riffs. The self-titled disc is the band's debut, but several years of gigging has solidified its sound and ethos — most songs begin with tidy melodic hooks that transmogrify into flowering, far-out explorations while never stretching too thin. "Magnolia Bloom," one of the album's highlights, provides the best example of this method. Powered by a relentless ride cymbal and simple bass pattern, the song spirals outward with a yawning guitar crescendo and Stereolab-like levels of repetition. The track also highlights Marshall's singing style — she plays it cool for the verses and shoots for the stars in the chorus. Her voice won't knock you down with either force or clarity, but it fits snugly in the setting of the album's ten tracks.
There's a Nuggets-y strand of psychedelia that runs through some of these songs. Tim Lohmann's guitar seems permanently set on fuzz, and "Morning Glory" finds him playing snake-charmer with sitar-like tones. Later, Lohmann's stuttering, distorted licks on "Carry Me" play nicely against the double-tracked vocals. But while the '60s vibe is unmistakable, it isn't all incense and peppermints. "Walking with You" sounds like an English folk dirge updated with resonant bass guitar plucks and echoing drum beats, and with Marshall's high harmonies and emotive lamentations, the song wouldn't feel out of place on an early Fairport Convention record. The reverie is potent but brief — modern synths drive the peppy, bottom-heavy "Early Days" and the instrumental "Caligula" is a sweet slice of surf-rock memorabilia. It may not be fair to call the Helium Tapes a throwback band, so we won't; suffice to say that while you may have heard some of these riffs before, it's been a long time since a local band has played them this well and with such a degree of inventiveness.
— Christian Schaeffer
9 p.m. Saturday, September 20. Schlafly Tap Room, 2100 Locust Street. Free.
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