Heligoland: Sainte Anne

So here I was listening to Heligoland's Sainte Anne EP and thinking about how bits of it reminded me of Cocteau Twins, specifically the group's chiming, reverb-laden guitar sound, when I learned that none other than Robin Guthrie was involved as mixer, producer, and keyboardist (Sainte Anne is, it turns out, his third collaboration with the group). The Australian and currently Paris-based Heligoland is no Cocteau Twins clone, however; the four-piece definitely has its own sound—one particularly defined by the vocal presence of Karen Vogt—even if Heligoland can be heard as carrying on aspects of the shoegaze tradition.

Recorded during a week in 2011 in the tranquil village of Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne in the French countryside, Sainte Anne features five finely crafted reveries by Vogt, guitarist-keyboardist Dave Olliffe, bassist Steve Wheeler, and drummer Antti Makinen. Like the EP in general, “One More Day” is luscious in design and serene in tone, with Vogt's soothing voice floating gracefully over a warm haze of guitars and keyboards. Even better are “Always Another” and “Sleepless,” gorgeous examples of refined songcraft that see Vogt's soulful presence ably supported by entrancing backdrops. When Makinen's playing becomes a more prominent part of an arrangement (as occurs during “22 Miles”), the music never loses its delicate quality. It's impossible to know what the material would have sounded like sans Guthrie's involvement; one can say, however, that with him on board the music exemplifies the kind of sonic distinction and elegance one associates with Cocteau Twins.

It is conceivable that stretched out to album length, Heligoland's music would impress less. But the twenty minutes of captivating material presented on the EP come pretty close to flawless. Sainte Anne is, in a word, bewitching.

May 2013