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Helio, you must be going

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For a lot of bands, discovering that your studio’s been submerged under a foot of water would prove catastrophic. Such an undesirable dilemma was forced upon The Helio Sequence after the release of its breakthrough 2009 album, Keep Your Eyes Ahead.

Yet, while the alt-rock act could have sulked knee-deep in the liquid that pervaded its recording space, the Portland, Ore., duo saw this untimely flood as an opportunity for revitalization.

“It was definitely shocking, but we just kind of filed it away,” said singer guitarist Brandon Summers. “We were on the East Coast; the studio’s on the West Coast; we had a few more weeks of touring, so what could we really do about it?”

Upon their return, he and drummer/keyboardist Benjamin Weikel stowed what equipment they were able to salvage into storage and commenced the search for a new beginning. What they found was something worlds apart from the cramped basement they had previously occupied.

“[The new space] is out in the middle of nowhere,” Summers said. “It’s totally quiet and we can record through the night. And that had a huge influence on the sound and tone of the new record.”

Negotiations, The Helio Sequence’s fifth full-length album and third for the legendary Sub Pop label, is a densely layered exercise in nocturnal solitude — one that finds the bandmates dipping their toes into uncharted waters.

It’s music that seems to have emerged from the flood, skirting the surface of a moonlit ocean at the speed of sound.

According to Summers, that tonal shift is a by-product of both familiar and anomalous surroundings, equal parts interpersonal and introspective.

“I’d go from this hectic family life and end up at the studio where it was just really quiet with tons of room to think and create,” he said. “It’s almost like I had people in mind, writing songs to each of them. Like a little conversation or a letter I would write to someone.”

Despite its pensive lyrical content, Negotiations is just as warm and welcoming, with luxuriant soundscapes and soaring pop melodies that invite the listener into a cavernous orb of intimacy.

“There are some songs I feel really close to. That’s not to say it’s anti-social, but something that you can listen to when you’re driving in a car at night or when you have that evening alone to concentrate on something,” Summers said. “If I’m feeling the heart of a song, then I can never trust it. Over time you realize … more of who you are and what it is that you do, because you always have blinders on somehow being close to creativity.”

It’s this reluctance for comfort that’s kept the twosome’s creative spark burning for more than a decade — a spark that, ironically, persisted through a damp, dank basement.

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