Helicon singer John-Paul Hughes and Even Butterflies Make A Sound met up once again on a sunny, spring morning in Glasgow. He’s in an ebullient mood. God Intentions, the band’s jaw-droppingly good new album, drops this week. God-like genius Gideon Coe continues to showcase the band’s singles on BBC 6 Music.
Helicon LP inspired by former bandmate’s journey
To start, what’s the new LP’s background? “The main inspiration behind it has been my brother Gary’s journey, who conquered demons that have been with him for 25 years. His transformation is remarkable. Another inspiration is the original use of psychedelics to find a deeper meaning and purpose in life. And a comment on how social media and self-serving career politicians create an individualistic society where people think they’re the centre of the universe.”
“It’s our best album yet. It’s the most collaborative, psychedelic, and ambitious record we’ve made. Anna McCracken and Lavinia Blackwall provided vocals; Mark O’Donnell from Tomorrow Syndicate plays Moog for a song. Our new members Billy Docherty and Mike Hastings (formerly of Trembling Bells with Lavinia) brought something fresh to the mix.”
“We also enlisted our friend Sotho Houle on violin for ‘Chateau H’ and classical violinist Rhona MacFarlane pulled together a string quartet of Glaswegian musicians for three tracks. It was a joy to hear our ideas evolve from demos using strings plug-ins to the lush, cinematic beauty these incredible talents added.”
That would make a great image … you conducting the string section! “None of us [Helicon] read music, which made for entertaining conversations when trying to get ideas and details over to a classically trained string quartet! I think they enjoyed being free to break conventional rules on what and how they should play.”
“Mark and I had come up with basic arrangements and demos for strings parts, but we handed them over to Rhona who re-worked them. And Sotho wrote his own violin piece for ‘Chateau H’.”
“Sonically, it’s massive. And will take you on a journey through all the highs and lows of facing, then overcoming, your demons. We’ve got the big guitar freakouts we’re known for, ethereal piano and strings-led soundscapes, electronica, and sitars in a heady brew of sounds and emotions.”
He’s right. (Check out the review below.) What is striking is the sheer variety throughout the album. And it shows the group can write killer songs as well as mind-bending wig-outs.
While different players complemented the Helicon sound, the band stayed in familiar territory for the sessions. “We recorded it at Dystopia, in Partick, Glasgow, with Luigi Pasquini and Jason Shaw. We’ve worked with Luigi on three Fuzz Club records; he implicitly understands how Helicon operates. Jason has a real passion for the broad psych genres and brings a creative edge to the studio.”
Pasquini and Shaw helped the band superbly realise God Intentions. While each subsequent Helicon release has seen the group go from strength to strength, God Intentions raises the bar further and is a proud testament to the successful completion of Gary Hughes’s journey.
God Intentions is out on Fuzz Club on 28 April. Check out their Bandcamp page: https://heliconglasgow.bandcamp.com/
God Intentions review
After a few listens I didn’t really ‘get’ God Intentions. Sure, it seemed like another outstanding Helicon LP but I wasn’t really feeling it. While Helicon could never be accused of taking the minimalist approach to music, the new LP seemed to have too much going on. It was difficult for me to get an ‘in’.
After re-reading John-Paul Hughes’s heartfelt words about his brother it suddenly clicked. The notion of a transformative journey became clear to me. What follows is my interpretation of that passage.
His dark materials
Dark Matter, as the title suggests, is ominous, foreboding. Unknowable. A short burst of pulsing electronic noise that collapses outward into random synth lines. Hinting at a black period in a person’s life? As the listener emerges from the dark matter a path lies before them. Who knows where it’ll lead? There’ll be twists and turns, ups and downs. That’s for sure.
It segues effortlessly into Flume, which hears the band hitting their straps from the get-go. John-Paul quietly issues a warning. Or is it a celebration of being pleasantly wrecked?
Long way down, Wait to feel the highs and lows. Motionless, Way down in hole.
It sets up the LP perfectly. The highs and the lows.
Chateau H is a groovy beast. Prepare to be transported to ecstatic abandon as a freeform violin weaves away like a drunk spinning top. Heliconia is another storming track interspersed with trademark sitar and Lavinia Blackwell’s wordless vocals taking the listener into the realms of fantasy.
Disobey closes out side A and is utterly gorgeous. It has a lush, soundtracky vibe. A bit like Portishead taking a break from writing a film score and chilling out on Juhu beach in Mumbai.
Side B crashes in with Zen Roller and Whiplash. The latter is a filthy track at the centre of which is a jagged guitar riff and rapid-fire drumming that beautifully bludgeons you, all the while a fuzzed-up guitar line glowers all over it. Quite remarkable.
But after all these heavenly blows there has got to be a comedown. God Intentions and Last Tango in Glasgow comprise a piano-led section. A time for some quiet reflection maybe. Redemption even?
Everybody is going tae the moon
What does redemption entail? Escaping this planet in some way? Tae the Moon and album closer, Starlounger, maybe give a clue to the direction Helicon are going? The delay-infused Starlounger serves as a counterbalance to the opener Dark Matter perhaps? Like the first track, it is an instrumental but is a much lighter number. A sense of freedom like the cords that bind have been loosened, hopefully removed.
God Intentions is a document of a band at the top of their game, immersed in their vision, totally confident in their choices. Helicon’s new LP is the sound of supreme artistic confidence and is a triumph of musical ambition.
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