Release Date 09/11/2015
(Unseen Music) CMJ
The latest album from Portland’s Helios, Yume takes its title from the Japanese word for “dream” and delivers an otherworldly ambient/electronic hybrid that’s cinematic in scope yet intimate in emotion. In making the album, composer/multi-instrumentalist Keith Kenniff (the sole artist behind Helios) created a warm sonic tapestry from luminous guitar lines, elegant piano work, ingeniously crafted rhythms, and lo-fi electronic elements. Though Kenniff’s graceful maneuvering of mood and tone lends Yume a journey-like quality, the album offers pieces as captivatingly disparate as “Pearls” (which blends heavy beats and lilting piano melodies, cascading guitar riffs and airy atmospherics) and “Embrace” (which closes out the album with a glimmering expanse of sound). The first Helios release since 2012’s Moiety, Yume also features compositions up to a decade in the making, revealing the deeply contemplative nature of Kenniff’s artistry.
Built from both electronic experimentation and live instrumentation—including cellist Amos Cochran and violist Ben Davis in addition to Kenniff’s work on acoustic and electric guitars, piano, and drums—Yume marks a departure in Kenniff’s approach to the rhythmic framework of Helios. “This album’s got a lot more live drums, and a lot of percussion that I created from all sorts of odd things,” he says. “I used my four-year-old’s toy tambourine on one track, and I incorporated different noises from around the house—like someone slamming a car door or the creak of the piano.” Including bits of movies and TV shows captured on tape recorder as well, those environmental sounds also help construct the richly detailed textures that run throughout Yume. “I have a whole library of found sounds that I work with,” says Kenniff. “I’ll bring them into the sampler and use them to play chords or melodies, chop them up and turn them into something completely different. It’s a very handmade, stitched-together sort of process.”
Raised in rural Pennsylvania, Kenniff began playing music at age 10 and studied percussion at Boston’s Berklee College of Music (from which he graduated with honors), releasing Helios’s 2004 debut Unomia while still in school. “At first there was no intention of actually putting anything out,” says Kenniff. “Helios was just a way for me to experiment with making music without having to get in a band—I could just do it on my own whenever I wanted.” Over the next decade, Kenniff released five more albums as Helios, along with creating post-classical music under the name Goldmund, collaborating with his wife Hollie in the shoegaze-inspired pop duo Mint Julep, and composing music for such clients as Paramount Pictures, Apple, Facebook, and Google.
In his pursuing multiple musical projects over the years, Kenniff’s continually returned to Helios as a channel for his most personal and self-contained creative output. “Making music for Helios is very soothing to me,” he says. “When I sit down to write, I turn my brain off and go on autopilot, and sooner or later the songs will come to me. I don’t think about it and I don’t ever try to force anything—if something’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen on its own.”
01. Every Passing Hour
02. It Was Warmer Then
03. Sonora Lac
06. Skies Minus
07. The Root
09. Sing the Same Song Twice