Heligator Records revisited

Heligator logo final

Landing – Traveling; Stag Hare – Star Valley;
Sparkling Pressure – Three Shapes;
Giant Claw – Soft Channel No.1; cloudsound – II

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in to Ryan M Hall’s digital-only Heligator Records label. There’s no real reason for my absence, just usual inward clump of life, work, sleep, eat and drink coffee (lots of coffee). Anyway, you’ll be glad to hear that he’s still at it, with a slew of nicely chosen drone, psych-pop and new-agey tunes from various cult outsiders who really should be more well-known. Five releases – three single, an EP and a fully blown album – have slipped the reigns and wandered out into the wild since the chunky Liars-style goth trippiness of CLIPD BEAKS tickled my ear holes.

But before we dive in, a word from our sponsors. Ryan charges a pittance for these slices of sonic yumminess, and all of the money goes to help fund the Malindza Refugee Camp Library in Mpaka, Swaziland. I’d call it a bloody good cause but Ryan has something more interesting to say about it:

The proceeds from Heligator go to maintaining the library (literally keeping the lights on) and providing a small stipend to the volunteer, refugee librarians. The library is home to over 1,500 books, two computers as well as English and French classes taught by refugee volunteers.

The library has a blog where you can find out more at: malindzarefugeecamplibrary.blogspot.com. Go take a look.

Anyway, are you sitting comfortably? Well, let’s begin, with Traveling by Landing, a jaunty little number in the motorik shoegaze vein, with guitars that sparkle and shimmer like frost on a lamp lit branch, vocals swathed in fog and a drummer who really, really digs that foursquare vibe.

It’s a nice mix of ambient and propulsive, and there’s a suitably dense, gluey feel to the second half of the track as the guitars get more layered and the drummer sticks stubbornly to the roadmap, despite the fact that we’re lost in the heart of the country. In a forest, perhaps. All alone.

Perky and enjoyable, despite its mournful vocals – which is half the fun, really – this doesn’t hang around a moment too long. I’d buy that for a dollar.

Next up is Stag Hare’s Star Valley, which beams a gorgeous swathe of widescreen ambience out into the universe. The synth washes and plaintive guitar echoes of the first half are so full of light and air they’re almost pastoral. I feel as if I should be watching a cute but deadly bear fishing in a river in some amazing American plain. Halfway through, however, fizzing electronics and a lethargic drum machine morph the vibe into a denser scrub. Fans of Clams Casino’s first mixtape will dig it. I dig it too.

Now for some weirdness. Sparklingwide Pressure contribute a trio of tracks to this, their second Heligator release, Three Shapes, and they are nourishing food for us eccentricity addicts. As with many experimental releases, the first listen yields only bafflement. Tranquilised vocals, lumbering bass, too-loud guitar strums. And that’s just the first track.

Ah, but there are hidden depths here. That opening track, Square, is an almost occult piece of space rock, its snails pace giving it a mesmeric, disorienting feel, like attending a black mass with Peter Cushing the heart of swinging London.

Blended Ghost House is disjointed, with snapping drums and atonal retro electronics slowly settling into a dreamy, off-key trudge. Yeah. The final track, Triangle (SWANS sticker) is a lovely, oozing slow jam, with chorused guitars marking cute figures in the air above a watery fug of drones and slurred vocals. It’s proper late night stuff. If you don’t listen to it and have flashbacks to that time you experience a drunken 4am vision of all that life is and could be, well, I feel bad for you son.

Next out of the traps is the dubby prog wobble of Giant Claw, whose Soft Channel No. 1 sounds like some post-dubstep maximalism reworked by a crazed King Crimson fan after one too many espresso-and-Crisis-On-Infinite Earth benders. Careful with that Anti-Monitor, Eugene. The main body of the tune is a jittery synth oboe workout with a touch of the old school mellotron. It threatens to break out into some massive rave choon, but never quite does. Instead, a whole bunch of gunshots mash things up – whether for politics or giggles, I don’t know – but it is surreal and actually quite groovy. Everything cuts out rather abruptly at the 2:48 mark, which is a bummer. Another three or four minutes would have been a blast.

And finally, let’s round things off with an actual bona-fidee full length album from hermetic guitar tickler cloudsound, aka Lee Boyd. These echoing fragments have something of Dean McPhee’s underwater sprawl about them, but rather than letting the tracks stretch out in glistening waves, Boyd curtails them, often quite abruptly, like soap bubbles that pop when you try to hold them.

This brevity seems to be a deliberate strategy. Soul of wit and all that. Boyd seems more interested in capturing fleeting moments rather than creating immersive ambience. Many of the pieces here barely stray above two minutes, and although a little more of tracks like Moon Fauna wouldn’t have gone amiss, that’s rarely a shame, exactly. These tunes do exactly what they’re supposed to. The exception is the seven or so minutes of Violet Golden Dream, whose stately, bleached out grace is so unhurried that it seems to exist in a whole different universe to the rest of us. Listening to it, I feel like Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan gazing upon the creation of the universe.

Yet for the most part, these nine pieces are faded polaroids, barely remembered memories, or glimpses from the window of a moving car. And, like those things, these golden miniatures seem capable of holding a whole universe within them.

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Everything is available from the Heligator Records Bandcamp site.

malindzarefugeecamplibrary.blogspot.com.

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