Helios: Ayres

Goldmund: Two Point Discrimination
Western Vinyl

Often when an ‘electronic' artist announces that he'll be adding his voice to his heretofore purely instrumental music, one cringes at the thought of amateurish vocalizing discolouring the artist's otherwise fine music. No such squeamishness is necessary in the case of Keith Kenniff's new Helios mini-album Ayres, however, as the Boston-based producer's gentle voice perfectly complement its six gorgeous compositions. His Helios tracks unfurl dreamily in a chant-like manner that calls to mind the more artistically explorative side of Brian Wilson documented on Sunflower, Smile, and Surf's Up.

Ayres is a uniformly lovely half-hour set of pastoral ‘electronic folk' that satisfyingly extends the Helios style previously heard on the Merck debut Unomia and the Type outing Eingya. Enhanced by harp plucks and sleigh bells, a slow tribal pulse nudges “Woods and Gives Away” along, but the most beautiful part arrives with the mid-song oasis where Kenniff's whispered voice drifts in beatless reverie. A similar tribal rhythm plods through “Signed I Wish You Well” but, rather than dragging the music down, the slow pulse enhances the song's dreaminess, an hypnotic quality strengthened by Kenniff's breathy vocal delivery and glistening keyboard accents. Like many Type and Miasmah artists, Kenniff seems enamoured of the collaborative work of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti; Ayres pays tribute to Lynch with a cover of the Eraserhead song “In Heaven” but, to Kenniff's credit, though the homage is executed credibly, it's still the least affecting of the EP's six songs. Ayres provides a kind of gently caressing music that whispers in one's ear, inducing peaceful slumber.

Kenniff's also slowly building up an exquisite library of Goldmund material and the third release, Two Point Discrimination, does nothing to lessen its cumulative appeal. Following upon the lovely full-length debut, Corduroy Road, and 7-inch sequel, The Heart of High Places, the new EP's eleven brief solo piano settings (collectively titled “Leading then from light to shadow they will see as one”) find Kenniff exercising even more than his customary restraint. Some of these predominantly melancholy ruminations are pretty and ponderous, others agitated and uptempo; some are densely layered, others skeletal.

With the microphone positioned as closely as possible, one hears the instrument's every breath, the faint sounds of the pedal being pressed, the strings hammered within, and fingers delicately touching the keys—all of which results in an intimate experience that makes the recording as much about atmosphere and resonance as the notes themselves. The recording approach also enables Kenniff to wrest unusual sounds from the instrument. In the eighth piece (“will”), a background percussive pattern that resembles a typewriter's quiet clacking persists throughout, while harp-like strums of strings in “see” deepen its aura of mystery. Listening to Two Point Discrimination is sonically akin to gazing out the window on a rainy Sunday, transfixed by rivulets of slowly descending raindrops forming on the clouded glass.

November 2007