Barboza, the intimate venue underneath Neumos, feels cut off from the rest of the world, with no sight or sound of the rest of the world. In some ways, it's the perfect venue for a band like Hælos, whose particular brand of UK club R&B feels wholly detached from the rest of the world, cinematic and visually evocative, the perfect thing to close your eyes and get taken away - you wouldn't expect something that sounds so much like the cosmos to fit so perfectly in a basement. The young band only began releasing singles in 2015, but their debut album made enough of a splash that they were thrown right into international circuit, playing festivals like Coachella and coming through the KEXP studios last time they were in town, so fans were pleased to hear that their next Seattle show would be somewhere as intimate as Barboza instead of one of the larger venues like the Paramount of Neptune. They moved, inspired, and crushed the crowd with their set, perfectly conjuring equal parts atmosphere and dance, although the audience was well greased by the opening act, Seattle's own Murder Vibes who were out promoting their debut album. The two were a perfect match: they both pedal electronic music reminiscent of bygone eras - Murder Vibes capturing the very late 80's gloom rock while Hælos played off of the trip-hop that was partly inspired by those electronic projects that Murder Vibes made their specialty. Both play melancholy dance, archetypal to all the kids who spent their first concerts staring down at their shoes, slowly bobbing back and forth, getting wrapped up in the rapture.Murder Vibes:
The evening's opening act was Seattle rising stars Murder Vibes, the project of Jordan Evans and Pete Hanks, a slickly electronic group that sounds like a vampiric Bret Easton Ellis soundtrack, the sound of late 80's dystopian synth gloom. Their sound was huge for a three-piece band: synth bass that crushed in around us, live drums adding a certain thunder instead of the drum machines that run through their debut eponymous album. Sadly, as is so often the case, the opening band drew the sound engineer's short straw, and the hauntingly distant lyrics of the recorded version were too muddied by the over-amplified guitar to really come through.
Hælos' Full Circle is made for - and by - the night. By the band's own admission, it's their attempt at capturing the twilight come-down between leaving the club and going to bed, when the adrenaline rush of dancing and the sonic bombardment of huge subwoofers has subsided, the intoxication faded, and the hopeful, blank black canvas of the night has revealed itself to be just another evening - what they call "dark euphoria." Their debut album is richly textured and, for something that sounds so hugely cavernous and open, is surprisingly densely populated with ample percussion, blankets of synth pads, and three vocalists. All this could be problematic live, and most groups would choose to have several glaring white Apple logos on stage with them just to capture their full recorded sound.
Hælos, however, opt to bring 6 members on stage and recreate it all by hand, even if "by hand" means triggering their own samplers occasionally. This is a busy setup reminiscent of bands like their UK peers Jungle that choose to take fundamentally electronic music and insist on having (many) human hands steer the ship - and much like Jungle, this produces a very dance-y product. I had seen Hælos when they came through the KEXP studios, so I was already aware of how meticulously they recreated their sound live, but I was unaware of how powerfully it moved you to dance.
I can't overstate how easily Full Circles could not have ended up being danceable. Out of the all the influences that one can clearly taste on the album, none are more present than the ghost of UK trip-hop. The subtly electric, the grimly modern, and the vaguely melancholic are everywhere on this album, so it was a true feat of art to have these things add up to a crowd full of bodies pressed on each other, sweaty and grinding, sexual in their sadness. There are other flavors present: a touch of Moby, some of the gray-skied dramatically bleak overtones from the last four tracks of the Chili Pepper's Stadium Arcadium: Mars. But the sound is thoroughly their's, without any clear "oh, this band sounds like this other band."
The venue undoubtedly had something to do with this: Barboza is a long, narrow space only as wide as the stage which is barely a foot above standing level. Acoustically, the bass presses in from all sides, tightening your chest and closing your throat, and everything else takes a second to catch up. This amplifies the angelic, cathedral sound of three heavily-reverbed vocalists as the wash of synth wails slowly creep back in the room - take for example the subtle bend in and out of pitch on a track like "Oracle," which sounds like a dying star, as the three vocalists ring above the din with the refrain of "savor the calm."
Their sound is cosmic and catastrophic, and the solar eclipse of their album artwork suggest that they know this too. The Alan Watts sample they let ride over the beginning of "Pray" continues that: "I'm going to talk to you this evening on the subject of 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."
There's an air of the apocalypse to their sound, an 'end of days' awe-inspiring sadness, but they fill every rhythmic subdivision with shaker and hi-hat in a way that is almost scientifically proven to result in dancing. so as the bodies down in the basement that is Barboza rubbed up on each other like the scene of celebration in Zion from one of The Matrix sequels, everything blurred to a slow motion as people danced like they would never leave. After it was all over and we all slid out into the cool night, I half-expected the world to be engulfed in flame.
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