Helios: Unomia

Unomia showcases another dimension of the Merck sound, specifically refined ambience from Helios (Keith Kennif) that contrasts markedly with the label's more aggressive electronica like Syndrone's Salmataxia. Helios successfully fashions an episodic travelogue that's unified by bridging segues between each piece. Numerous styles abound, although a recurring strategy finds him underlaying sustained chordal washes with crisp hip-hop-flavoured beats. A case in point is the dreamy opener “Velius” whose pretty billowing keyboards are joined by a restrained squelchy beat that suddenly mutates into a slamming hip-hop pattern, an approach similarly deployed on “Nine Black Alps” and the buoyant “Clementine.” Darker storms appear on the down-tempo dirge “Homero Hymnus” and the unrelenting “Samsara,” an imaginary soundtrack for a dying civilization haunted by faint radio transmissions reporting on its cataclysmic plight. “Two Mark” moves into moody sci-fi territory with scattered space emissions and ghostly Ligeti voices, while the glistening chordal ambience in “Suns That Circling Go” evokes Eno. Kennif also incorporates—perhaps too much so—crashing waves and seagulls on “Cullin Hill,” “Buldir,” and the closer “Luek.” The latter treads dangerously close to New Age when the only sounds are waves at the shoreline and wind noises, but Kennif wisely rescues the track by adding a clanking beat at its end. Surprisingly, while the thirteen pieces are all accomplished, the most affecting are “Light House,” a ballad featuring acoustic guitar and piano, and, best of all, the melancholy “West Orange,” a gentle piano piece that sounds like a recording unearthed from some dusty box hidden beneath some old floorboards. On the down side, Unomia doesn't offer much that's radically new to advance upon what other ambient artists have done already, but, having noted that deficiency, there's no disputing the quality of its down-tempo, vaporous ambience.

June 2004