Albums, Music, The Revue — March 24, 2016 at 5:00 am

HÆLOS’ existential debut album “Full Circle”

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The past year has been a whirlwind for London trio HÆLOS. Their debut single, “Dust”, was a massive hit in cyberspace with more than 257,000 spins on SoundCloud. It was an introduction to the band’s dark, cosmic electronica, which blended the sensual and captivating trip-hop of Massive Attack and the otherworldly soundscapes of M83. They followed that up with two more great singles, the titillating “Earth Not Above” that was a more ethereal take of Public Service Broadcasting’s (PSB) spatial epics, and the gorgeous and engrossing “Cloud Nine”, which were also huge successes.

Less than a year into their formation, HÆLOS was signed to Matador Records. Their first three singles ended up forming the foundation of their debut EP, Earth Not Above, and the band’s first release with the indie label giant. While the individual songs of the EP, which included “Ethyr” and “Breathe”, were spectacular, the album felt incomplete. It was one dazzling, breathtaking song after enough, but the songs seemed distinct from one another and there wasn’t anything tying the songs together.

Whether Arthur Delaney, Dom Goldsmith, and Lotti Benardout felt the same way is unknown, but a mere 9 months since the release of the EP they’ve returned with their debut long player, Full Circle. The original three songs have been retained, but the entire composition and vibe of Full Circle differs greatly from Earth Not Above. With the scope to share 11 songs, the entire album feels complete, like one continuous story where the beginning, middle, and end points arrive at the same destination – like a full circle.

Borrowing from PSB’s approach, HÆLOS smartly kick the album off with “Intro/Spectrum”, which revolves around the opening lines of Alan Watt’s “The Spectrum of Love”.

We know that from time to time there arise among human beings people who seem to exude love as naturally as the sun gives out heat. These people, usually of enormous creative power, are the envy of us all, and, by and large, man’s religions are attempts to cultivate that same power in ordinary people.

It’s a powerful and brilliant introduction to what is come, and the music and words beautifully merge into the album’s first ethereal experience, “Pray”. Combining the essence of trip hop with modern house and deep bass, “Pray” is lush yet dizzying. It could be spun in a club or in a home, and regardless of the venue leaving one entranced. “Dust” follows, and it feels fresh and new, as the first two tracks have done their job in building the drama and intensity.

The combination of “Full Circle” and “Earth Not Above” is an interesting one. From the focus of the songs (between two vs all of humanity) to the sound (a mix of The xx and Public Service Broadcasting vs. a trance-like hypnotism), the songs appear to be a dichotomy. On the contrary, the songs depict the duality that exists in our lives, where love and reflection, passion and consideration govern both the relationships we have with people and with the earth that is around us.

The additions of “Oracle, “Alone”, “Separate Lives”, and “Sacred” are most welcome. They are the missing links that were absent on the band’s debut EP. They either help build the album’s plot and heighten its intensity (“Oracle” and “Separate Lives”) or offer a moment of reprieve and reflection with their more retro-sound approach (“Alone”, “Sacred”). This foursome then provide the orbit to the album’s sensational finale.

“Cloud Nine” is the penultimate track and arguably the London-based trio’s most hypnotic and breathtaking on the entire album. Despite the song not having as many layers or textures on the other songs, it dazzles with its simplicity and heart-pounding pace. Benardout’s voice quietly soars above the pulses of Goldsmith’s drumming and Delaney’s scintillating synths.

The closer, “Pale”, though, is the album’s most blissful song. The song ebbs and flows during its first half, reaching quiet, ethereal high points and calm valleys. In the final two minutes, the song swells to its glorious finish, as the synths, keys, drums, and Benardout’s voice all collide. If we could hear what a supernova would sound like, it just might be the end of “Pale” or the very least the song would its anthem.

When you take a moment to think about what HÆLOS have done in just eighteen months since their formation, Full Circle is quite the achievement. They could easily have fallen into the trap of other bands and created a blazing electronic album where one song blurs with another. Instead, they have taken some of the best elements of electronic and merged them with contemporary synth-pop to create a terrific album – actually, a truly moving and fantastic existential debut.

Full Circle is out now via Matador Records.

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