When I say grunge or post-punk, I bet the first adjective that pops into your head isn’t “fun”, right? Sure, the genres can be irreverent and often incorporate a kind of rebellious humor but they’re also usually coated with a grave seriousness, a thematic kind of weight. But on their new album, Helms Alee, via production and overall sound, have managed to inject their already excellent take on the genres with a spring in the step, a veritable verve that defies easy definition but infects with a quick jab and an urgent desire to move. This makes Noctiluca a fearsome album, able to hit emotionally with much expression but also to delight, beguile, and overall lift up the listener.
“Interachnid” is a fantastic example; just listen to that hi-hat go. These cymbal plays, interlaced with a thick and prominent bass tone (reminiscent of Glassjaw‘s last release) creates this kind of momentum and energy that’s just too hard to resist. Add over this the excellent vocals of Hozoji Matheson-Margullis and Dana James, with their sweet but unique timbre, and you have yourself a winner. James’s bass continues to strum the low register while the higher vocals complete the picture, everything moving off of that inescapable octane pumped from Margullis’s kit. All of this makes “Interachnid” a fantastic opener, setting the tone for an articulate and groovy album.
From there, things get a bit heavier. Lest you worry that I or, indeed, the band themselves have forgotten the mighty Ben Verellen and his set of pipes, let me assure you that this is not the case. On the following track, “Beat Up”, he contributes a more hardcore influenced performance, harsher vocals setting off of the kinder, leading voices. The track itself follows suit, baring an even stronger comparison to the aforementioned Glassjaw. By the time “Play Dead” arrives, with its fascinating, multi-layered choir pieces near its end, the stage is well and truly set; in its opening moments, Noctiluca shows off the impressive agility and dexterity of Helms Alee. It moves brilliantly between heavier, dirtier moments of grunge while constantly keeping any eye on forward momentum and drive by keeping things fresh and addictive.
Nor is the band content with just these ideas and sounds. Noctiluca to many places, like the psychedelic tinged spaces of “Be Rad Tomorrow”. But it’s when the old-school grunge sound is brought forward and mixed with those psychedelic and even progressive rock hints (mostly, again, on the vocals) that the latter parts of the album truly shine. This can be heard on “Spider Jar”, heavily featuring Verellen’s vocals in their cleaner mode this time. When vocal tracks by the other vocalists of the band, plus some synths, are added to them on the chorus, one of the most evocative and moving passages of the album is born, harking back to a kind of nostalgia espoused by bands like Black Mountain.
These touches, as well as plenty other deviations which take place nearer the end of Noctiluca, keep its main line fresh well pass its runtime. At the end of the day, the album is just well crafted; every cymbal hit, vocal line, bass murmuration, and vocal layer is placed where it needs to be to create an album which just feels young. Where previous albums by the band were ponder-some and immersive, Noctiluca is more like a dizzying journey, a skip from stone to bedazzling stone. It’s a post-punk/grunge/rock/whatever album that gives the listener a run for their money, always finding new ways to delight.
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Noctiluca was released on April 26th. You can grab it via the band’s Bandcamp above!