by Katie Hanford
Portland-based Helvetia, project of former Duster drummer and current Built to Spill bassist Jason Albertini, has been an alt staple for over a decade now. Albertini consistently produces interesting and diverse sonic landscapes for our ears to traverse, expertly spanning the vast galaxy currently known as “indie rock” while simultaneously bringing a variety of other genres to the table. Helvetia’s impressive discography includes six full-lengths, a few demo compilations and other wacky releases Albertini puts up on SoundCloud when he’s feeling particularly creative. A project as productive as Helvetia always runs the risk of becoming redundant, a fate no artist wants but one that usually occurs by default anyway.
Thankfully, Helvetia has not yet fallen into the trap of their own sound, as proven by the increasingly intriguing and highly adaptable Sun Chasers EP. Albertini’s tenure in one of the most influential space rock bands of all time accounts for his supreme ability to send tracks hurtling out into space, only to bring them back down to earth again a few moments (or sometimes minutes) later. Take the closing track “YesYes” for example: initially down-tempo and relaxed, this tune’s warmth is turned on its head in the chorus, when the key turns minor and the soundscape is hijacked by an alien force intent on taking it to another dimension. The diversion eventually ends, and Albertini expertly pilots the track back to its opening fuzz, allowing remnants of the trip to fly around overhead in the form of a heavily reverbed guitar drone. “She Crashed” feels like an ode to ‘50s blues greats, grooving with a chunky riff that slides lazily around the fretboard. It’s this laziness that allows the track to become so naturally airborne, incorporating increasingly stuttering breakdowns and guitars that resemble a space station’s soundtrack in between the bluesy drawl. Each journey travels farther out of the song’s atmosphere; despite this, Albertini never fails to draw the trip to a satisfying close, whether that be back down where it began or floating up amongst the stars.
Although the EP clocks in at a minimal 14 minutes, it’s easy to get lost in Albertini’s never-ending intergalactic imagination. Each listen brings something new to the table, convincing us that Helvetia’s not running out of innovative content anytime soon.
Portland fans: Helvetia will be playing an entire Duster cover set at Mississippi Studios on December 29. This is the first (and potentially last) Duster “reunion” show, so don’t miss out!