Helios: An Album Review

Ben Bock

As we approach the exam season, the average student will spend 17 hours a week studying. This month, I decided to share an album that may make this undertaking a bit less daunting. Keith Kenniff is a Berklee College of Music graduate who has been releasing music for the last 11 years under 3 different names. Starting with an ambient release, Unomia, in 2004 under the name Helios, he has garnered a name for himself through his personal projects as well as soundtracks and composing small pieces for companies like Facebook and Apple.

Although all of Keith’s work is fantastic, I will be focusing on the 2006 release Eingya. It’s his sophomore instrumental album in his own vein of downtempo post-rock under the Helios moniker. With some experience from his first release, as well as a debut album under his Goldmund alias, this album saw his sound truly mature. His degree in percussion provides him with the compositional tools to underline a symphony of mostly acoustic instruments. Almost all rhythms throughout Eingya are an opportunity for Keith to experiment with patterns and new percussive elements.

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Guitar and piano are especially emphasized in most of the tracks. In a song like Coast Off, vocals can be heard but not understood. Acoustic instruments are spliced together to create a surreal effect. The blend of organic sounds and clever sample placement is what gives Eingya an atmospheric ambient sound while maintaining a regular beat that is easy to feel.

 However, there is also a clear electronic influence that weaves its way through Eingya. In songs like “Paper Tiger” and “The Toy Garden”, you can easily hear some glitch-inspired production. However, electronic instruments are used with discernment. They are most often used to establish a sonic environment via pads but are also used to highlight specific melodies introduced by the acoustic instruments.

 The use of field recordings also plays a part in creating Helios’ beats and soundscapes. In the drone-like “Vargtimme”, it sounds as though you’re listening to an old tape recording that has been over-stretched and slowed down, creating a wall of sound. In “Halving the Compass”, you might feel as though you are quite literally transported to a forest glade. You can hear guitars and pianos exchange melodies over birds singing and a beat constructed with sounds of the environment. In particular, using these sampled sounds as percussion seems to be recurring theme in Eingya, as similar techniques can be heard later on as well.

As great albums often do, Eingya leaves you wanting more, wrapping up with one of my all-time favourite songs: “Sons of Light and Darkness”. We find an incredibly reverb-thick upright piano settling between a few chords underpinned by an incredibly airy pad and Keith’s signature natural beat. Following this track is the closer, “Emancipation”. This simple guitar piece perfectly sums up the simplicity behind the collective work while remaining elegant and powerful as a stand-alone song.

 As this is purely instrumental, I thought some stressed out students would find this useful as we prepare for exams. If this catches your fancy, I recommend checking out his other albums under the Helios name — his new album Yume came out this year). He also releases solo piano music under the name Goldmund — his new album Sometimes came out this year as well — which can also be good for studying. For more information on Keith Kenniff and related projects, check out http://www.unseen-music.com/