Helios: Yume
Unseen Music

In speaking of his Helios project, Keith Kenniff says, “I have a whole library of found sounds that I work with ... I'll bring them into the sampler and use them to play chords or melodies, chop them up, and turn them into something completely different. It's a very handmade, stitched-together sort of process.” Such a description could lead one to think that his Helios material possesses a cobbled-together quality, that it's something mongrel-like and the product of happenstance. Yet while serendipity is no doubt part of Kenniff's modus operandi, the pieces on Yume are hardly happy accidents. Instead, the forty-seven-minute collection evidences all of the customary care and polish that we've come to associate with his output, all the way back to Unomia, the debut Helios album the Pennsylvania-raised multi-instrumentalist issued in 2004 whilst studying percussion at Boston's Berklee College of Music.

It's heartening to see the Helios alias still alive and well, eleven years and six full-lengths (2012's Moiety the predecessor to Yume) on from that first recorded appearance. It's hardly the only iron in Kenniff's fire either: in addition to producing work for companies such as Paramount Pictures, Apple, Facebook, and Google, he continues to release music under the Goldmund name as well as collaborate with his wife Hollie in the shoegaze-inspired outfit Mint Julep.

That Yume is the Japanese word for “dream” says much about the tone of the album's ambient-electronic material, which supplements Kenniff's own guitar (acoustic and electric), piano, and drum playing with contributions from cellist Amos Cochran and violist Ben Davis. Ever the inventive sound sculptor, Kenniff incorporates real-world sounds such as a slammed car door and piano creak into the arrangements, though the results never sound anything but natural. There's a headnod quality to his beats, but they're generally more soothing than hard-hitting (“Pearls” and the title track noticeable exceptions). In keeping with its wistful title, “It Was Warmer Then” seems to look back with heartfelt melancholy to places long ago visited, while “The Root” catches one's ear for its shoegaze aura and unexpected beat flirtation with garage. Elsewhere, “Skies Minus” impresses for the expansiveness of its strings-laden outpouring, as does “Embrace” for its epic, album-closing shimmer.

Much of the music exudes a quietly radiant, pastoral character, and the lulling downtempo rhythms that Kenniff deploys only bolster the songs' seductive pull. Chiming guitars and acoustic piano amplify the music's outdoorsy spirit, and the general uplifting mood of the material enhances its appeal. If the label weren't considered so unfashionable, it would be tempting to describe the music—at least a generous portion of it—as folktronica, given its blend of lo-fi electronics and acoustic instrumentation. Labels aside, such resplendent music warms the heart and stirs the soul, and the world is a better place for Yume being in it.

September 2015