Helm - Chemical Flowers

  • Experimental soundscapes made from the everyday.
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  • Helm is fond of twisting the sounds of everyday objects into new shapes. "I like the ambiguity," he told Resident Advisor in 2017. "What I enjoy about making this kind of music and working with these sounds is that you can create something that's not so specific or referential to its actual source. You can make new environments, or new worlds of sound." Helm, AKA Luke Younger, has been studiously investigating this aspect of music in a decade-plus career, imbuing strange electronic soundscapes with the artefacts of daily life. This approach found form on 2008's drone-based Impasse and 2011's clanging Cryptography. His last album, 2015's Olympic Mess delivered his fullest, most cinematic sonic experiments. Across such an extensive catalogue, Younger has managed to find new ways of reinventing the mundane, often with disquieting results. Chemical Flowers, Younger's fifth album, marks both a continuation and break with his past work. His fascination with the quotidian remains. The album opener, "Capital Crisis (New City Loop)," begins with what sounds like machinery followed by a bell and running water. They're quickly subsumed by shimmering synths before an ominous drone grounds the rest of the track. You would have heard these elements on past Helm record, but this time each sound is rendered with newfound clarity. Gone are the shrouds of noise and distortion of previous records, including 2017's World In Action. As a result, the uncanny atmospheres common in Younger's work feel all the more unsettling here. Younger is joined by musicians whose instruments add colour to these compositions. JG Thirlwell, best known as the experimental artist Foetus, wrote string quartet arrangements while Lucinda Chua played cello. On "I Knew You Would Respond," the strings swirl around deliberate percussion and abrasive, almost horror-inflected sound effects. They anchor a slippery soundscape where the boundaries between acoustic, electronic and sample are blurred. Karl D'Silva's saxophone, which enhances the LP's disoriented feel, is similarly difficult to pinpoint in the mix. Towards the end of the first track, the sax bleeds into the buzzing electronics, yet another element for Younger to manipulate into odd shapes. Despite Younger's suggestion that he doesn't have much interest in scoring films, much of Chemical Flowers has a narrative feel. There are allusions to real-world concerns in the track titles. "Chemical Flowers" and "Toxic Racecourse" suggest a kind of poisoning, their sonic configurations suitably queasy. Is Younger referencing social media on "You Are The Database," or pessimism towards his hometown of London on "Capital Crisis (New City Loop)"? Maybe, but these themes don't greatly impact the record, particularly when the ambiguous compositions of Chemical Flowers provide enough space for the listener to project their own emotions and ideas. The album's mix of the everyday and the unfamiliar is deeply eerie, a world of sound in which it's possible to contemplate the disruptions of our own.
  • Tracklist
      01. Capital Crisis (New City Loop) 02. I Knew You Would Respond 03. Body Rushes 04. Leave Them All Behind 05. Lizard In Fear 06. Toxic Racecourse 07. You Are The Database 08. Chemical Flowers