Agitated Atmosphere: Helen - The Original Faces

Agitated Atmosphere, Album Reviews
08/14/2015
Justin Spicer

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Helen.

Though doubtful Liz Harris (Grouper), Scott Simmons and Jed Bindeman had any sort of sloganeering in mind when joining forces in a failed attempt at thrash, there is no doubt that The Original Faces carries with it some of the heart of the original Faces. A ragtag group of individuals searching for chemistry in the midst of creative chaos.These outlets which showcase Harris’ ideals and sounds outside the confines of her more accepted “persona” are fascinating glimpses into modern musicology. As fans of music, most musician record collections are widespread among many genres and personalities, as evident in Harris’ many collaborations. But Helen may be most notable for how ordinary the influences and how magnificent the outcomes.

The Original Faces is a noisy affair that would slot nicely in the late 60’s aside the raucous Faces as well as it would the year that punk supposedly broke; a cacophony of garage doo-wop, fuzzy shoegaze and ethereal vocals detached from one another and yet, incomplete without the sum of its parts.

Thus proving Helen is an equitable experiment, even if Simmons and Bindeman lack the name brand appeal of Lawrence English or Jesy Fortino. Without the swinging soul of Helen’s rhythm section, there would not be the warmth that envelopes the album. Simmons and Bindeman whistling while they work just like Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones; digging in just like Doug Hart and Bobby Gillespie.

Fans got their first taste of this dynamic with last year’s 7-inch (both songs from that release – “Felt This Way” and “Dying All the Time” are included here), but it’s taken much further with “Right Outside” and “Grace,” where Simmons and Bindeman seem to be one, slathering on happy backbeats and hippy tidings onto darker melodies. A great duality of the 60’s that was rarely acknowledged until 30 years later in the work of “alternative” artists enamored and spiteful of the generation that birthed their parents.

But The Original Faces is also a child of the present. And it’s the happy accidents in life – a band aiming for thrash but landing in noise pop – that mirror the most successful chances in music. Thirty-odd years of pop coalescing into a record that will fit in the open chasm between the misplaced optimism of the 60’s and the upending frustration of the 90’s.

Justin Spicer is the editor of Cerberus at Tiny Mix Tapes and contributes to online and print publications such as Ad Hoc and Cuepoint. You can follow him and his work via Twitter.

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