You will not be comfortable while you listen to this.
6.6 / 10
Last year was a great year for experimental electronica. We saw some fantastic albums from Boards of Canada, Forest Swords, The Haxan Cloak, Nicolas Jaar, Tim Hecker, and Oneohtrix Point Never. Unfortunately, in all of this ruckus, some great albums just kind of got lost in the shuffle. Helm’s 2013 EP, Silencer, was one of the best drone-based recordings we heard all year. Helm – London-based producer Luke Younger – is a master at crafting dark, brooding compositions that feel straight out of David Lynch’s darkest moments. So when Silencer’s follow up, The Hollow Organ was just kind of announced out of nowhere, we got pretty excited.
I’ve had a difficult time wrapping my head around The Hollow Organ. I’ve had a hard time putting my thoughts into words. Too often, I find that experimental, ambient, electronic albums are the hardest to talk about in any meaningful way. It’s hard to listen to Tim Hecker’s Virgins or The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation and not just say “yep, it’s good.” We know it’s good, but why it’s good is what’s hard to explain. Silencer was a great EP partly because of the feelings it evoked (i.e., dread, fear, suspense, tension), and partly for how sounds were used to achieve that. On that EP, Helm used a collection of seemingly lo-fi, broken sounds, and repeated them in a variety of slow, cyclical ways; a sound that started as a whirl would get played for so long that it begins to sound like a table saw going through your skull. Helm’s composition were bare, and simple, but they were incredibly effective.
On The Hollow Organ, Luke Younger brings back the same palette of sounds: a creaking deck, sharp feedback, metal on metal echoing at a distance, etc… But this time around, he arranges them differently. This EP is a bit more fractured than the last, and Helm seems content to try to change sounds up instead of letting them play out naturally like in Silencer. Unfortunately, this kind of takes away a lot of what I liked about that EP, and what we have left is a lot of scary, spooky sounds that feel incidental. In fact, many moments of The Hollow Organ feel as if they are meant to be scoring something, like there is an accompaniment that we just don’t have access to.
There are a few moments of clarity on The Hollow Organ that are worth mentioning. The feedback of “Spiteful Jester” recaptures a lot of what Silencer so interesting. Feedback screams in and out while a percussive noise batters around the musical landscape. In the very final moment of the track, it all comes to a screeching stop, and that resulting silence is soul-sucking in how empty it is. The final, and titular, track on the EP serves as another highlight. It’s the longest composition here (over 10 minutes), and things feel business-as-usual until about the 8-minute mark, when the organ begins to invade the mix. The organ is almost out-of-place because of how tangible it is, compared to the other sounds here, but its presence on the EP feels completely alien. It appears out of the fog, only to vanish back into it. It’s a haunting stretch, but once that organ fades out, the EP’s over, and you can help but feel like you missed out on something.
You may find yourself lost in The Hollow Organ, but this EP just isn’t as powerful as Helm’s previous release.
“The Hollow Organ”