Album Review: Homeshake – Helium

Since Peter Sagar launched the project almost seven years ago, Homeshake has been capturing the imaginations of young fans everywhere. Although his lo-fi soft-rock sound has often been likened to that of Connan Mockasin, Mild High Club, and Mac DeMarco, Sagar has established himself as an artist with an original style that transcends such comparisons. Throughout his previous work, In The Shower (2014), Midnight Snack (2015), and Fresh Air (2017), Sagar has crafted a world that is endearingly unique and genuine, one that is charmingly warm, and incredibly tender. It is a world that many millennials would rather live in as it resonates with a nostalgia for a past that seemed easier, more humble, and more real.

Sagar, a self-described “homeboy”, is a man who seeks solitude. He certainly finds it with the release of his fourth full-length, Helium. The album draws from the same haze-soaked, sentimental mood palette of Homeshake’s previous work, but on this occasion, Sagar takes on sole responsibility for it’s recording and mixing. He undertook this from a place where he is most comfortable – his Montreal apartment. This gave him complete creative freedom, allowing him to give in to his artistic desire to move away from a chorus-laden upbeat aesthetic and towards one that is more ambient, with a distinct focus on synths and texture. The result, he says, is a record that “came out nice and pure”.

Perhaps a result of this freedom or just closer proximity to Sagar’s norm this record is undoubtedly more sad, vulnerable, and contemplative than its predecessors. The music expresses a certain disillusionment with and detachment from a world that appears artificial, empty, and obsessed with all the wrong things. It is a world Sagar does not see himself belonging to and Helium is his chosen form of therapy, and one that speaks to those who feel the same, reminding them that they are not alone. Reflecting this, Helium is a more stripped back affair than Sagar’s other records. The production work, song-writing, and vocals are all laid out bare and untainted throughout, which collectively evoke that sense of void that pervades today’s world. While it may be more subtle in its approach, there is still meticulous emphasis placed on the studio techniques he employs, placing the whole album in a metaphysical and illusory space through his unconventional use of his unique sonic palette.

Helium is also imbued with captivatingly romantic tracks like “Other Than” and “Anything At All”, whose soothingly seductive guitar riffs embody an idea of solitude that is attractively poignant rather than hopelessly miserable. Here, Sagar speaks of the widespread delusion that “Maybe I could feel better with some people that I know” and of a yearning for someone to “Pull me out this goddamn crowd”. He comments on the ironic alienation that exists in a society that is so “connected” and where “Everyone I’ve known/ Lives in my cell phone”. On the other hand, the dreamy sounds of the Roland Juno 60 in “All Night Long”, “Just Like My”, and “Like Mariah” are deeply moving, expressing a longing for beautiful moments to never fade away. The numerous ethereal interludes that infuse the album also add to the alluring fantasy Sagar so carefully crafts. “Salu Says Hi” in particular is a touching piece with modulated vocals and an airy synth background that sounds like two machines excited to have finally made contact with someone in a world that seemed so desolate.

However, although the music is elegant in its simplicity, Sagar does not always manage to compensate for its austerity. His vocals remain understated, they lack obvious hooks and emits lyrics that are almost entirely unintelligible, making the album less accessible and its form less clear. Perhaps the title of the album and the extensive use of high-pitched vocals allude to the “lighter-than-air” state of the music’s persona, one that navigates today’s toxic society by floating above it all. Or, perhaps, it is intentionally jesting at one unflattering review of Fresh Air from 2017, where the vocals were criticised and described as “bursts of static, helium-inflected voices” and “a big reason some of this music falls flat”. Whatever the creative motivations, this aesthetic choice means listeners sometimes have to afford the music extra attention in order to grasp it. Unfortunately, the static pace of the album causes the music to lose trajectory at times, making it difficult to follow, particularly in tracks like “Another Thing” and “Secret Track”.

The themes and sounds Sagar explores in Helium are not too dissimilar from those explored in Fresh Air and so perhaps the whole idea is beginning to feel slightly overdone. It could be time for Sagar move on and delve into new creative avenues. On the whole, the album is a therapeutic ballad to loneliness, but some might argue that it does not have the same appeal and timelessness of Homeshake’s previous releases. Some fans may be disappointed, but all this certainly does not point to a lack of talent on Sagar’s part, and moreover it is not his talent that is up for debate here. Sagar simply should not get carried away with this aesthetic. He should also not forget his listeners and the reasons why they first fell in love with Homeshake; for a sound that was transporting, heart-warming, unpredictable, but most of all, unique and enduring.

Helium is available to purchase here.