Helm - Olympic Mess

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  • There's a surprise near the end of Helm's latest album. The producer is best known for his glowering industrial soundscapes, but "Strawberry Chapstick" is something else entirely: a spoken word piece (perhaps salvaged from YouTube) in which the narrator spends four minutes outlining the mundane details of their life. "I'm gonna tell you a little bit about myself today," it begins, the voice so quiet and close to the microphone that every lip-smack and enunciation rings out. The effect is intensely intimate, if a little unsettling—much like the rest of Olympic Mess. With roots in noise and drone, Luke Younger's music for PAN has been gradually building in intensity, from 2012’s brooding Impossible Symmetry to the tortured-metal shrieks and squalls of last year's Hollow Organ EP. Olympic Mess upsets that arc from the very first track, "Don't Lick The Jacket," in which clanking machinery and curls of distortion are submerged in a balmy swell of chords. The aptly titled "Fluid Cloak" follows the same formula, its rich pads functioning as an amniotic fluid in which the spikier elements can float. According to Younger, the album chronicles a "struggle to achieve a healthy equilibrium between one's personal and artistic lives." These tracks feel like hideaways from such pressures. There are darker moments too—the ominous gong booms of "Often Destroyed," for instance, or "Sky Wax (London)," whose low-volume tension conjures images of vacant city streets under a bruised sunset. But most of Olympic Mess offers respite rather than disturbance. On the title track, Younger shapes his usual collection of denatured loops into a gentle, lilting rhythm; on "Sky Wax (NYC)" he smothers them in dubby reverberance. In these moments, you can just about hear traces of the album's cited influences: subtle but hypnotic styles like Balearic disco and dub techno. In spite of all this, Olympic Mess isn't quite the ambient zone-out it first seems. Take the 12-minute "Outerzone 2015": from a zoomed-out perspective it's slow-moving and meditative. Zoom in, though, and its a mess of micro-detail, like the turbulent cloud formations on a planet's surface. Equally ambiguous is "I Exist In A Fog": yet more chords sweep away the churning noise of the track's opening, but they flash like metal surfaces catching the sun—pretty, but faintly threatening, too. Such ambiguities can make Olympic Mess's charms difficult to excavate, but it's well worth making the effort to do so.
  • Tracklist
      01. Don't Lick The Jacket 02. I Exist In A Fog 03. Fluid Cloak 04. Outerzone 2015 05. Often Destroyed 06. Olympic Mess 07. Sky Wax (London) 08. Strawberry Chapstick 09. The Evening In Reverse 10. Sky Wax (NYC)