Review: Black Helicopter, Everything is Forever (Limited Appeal, 2017)

Way back in 2004, the now sadly defunct Traktor7 label sent me That Specific Function, the excellent debut full-length from Boston's Black Helicopter, and I was immediately smitten by its uniquely inventive form of, "Dark indie rock... I guess?" Always slightly outside of my typical listening fare, I don't have a strong frame of reference for the types of bands they might be oft-compared to, but That Specific Function has been in regular rotation ever since, so I was excited to learn that seven years after their last full-length, Black Helicopter is back with a killer new four-song 12" EP through Limited Appeal Records. (Digging around in preparation for this write-up, I learned that they also released an EP last year—Deadlines for Deadbeats—though digital-only, it seems.)

The group's current lineup consists of Tim Shea (guitar and vocals), Matt Nicholas (drums), Can Keskin (guitar), and Mike Davis (bass); but Everything is Forever was tracked by Shea (guitar, bass, vocals) and Nicholas (drums, percussion, vocals) alone, with former bassist Zack Lazar performing on "And I > Drive at Night." Said opener kicks things off with the Black Helicopter I know and love: moderately paced and melodic, slightly sludgy with a hint of a grunge-tinged aesthetic, and utilizing a restrained form of singing that offers a narrative touch to the delivery. It sounds like some acoustic guitar is layered in against the mid-level distortion, which is gritty and has an edge, but not "heavy" per se; and there's an unexpectedly quick and fuzzy lead harmony right near the end, too. It's just fucking cool, man, that's all there is to it!

"Not Kewl Who" is noticeably slower and more straightforward in structure and delivery. There's almost a '60s garage rock type of vibe (in a Weezer-ish manner or someting)—complete with a few "la-la-la-la" vocals at one point. With more emphasis on rise-and-fall dynamics and spurts of brighter, fuzzier distortion, it's another great, memorable tune. The bass-centric but not-quite-post-punk atmosphere of "Show of Hams" then presents more of a dreary dissonance amidst its jangly chord phrasings, with some added percussion elements and windily-whooshing effects for texture.

The longest piece at just over seven minutes, side B's "Everything is Forever" is a surprisingly moving instrumental where nice, arpeggiated melodies are panned and layered around a pulsing, back-and-forth bass run. The guitars gradually thicken into chords and spread into variations on the hypnotically driving core, occasionally becoming more staccato in delivery, and at times accented by light dashes of what I assume to be choral-sounding keyboards. The percussion becomes harder-hitting and more robust toward the final minutes, encircling the other instrumentation prior to its close.

I really dig the production. Stripped down but not overly rugged, it's nice and crisp, with the type of natural warmth and balanced mix that always hit the mark for me. Lots of great layering and interaction between instruments is evident, and it's always a huge plus when such interesting bass lines are given ample space.

The lyrics are a bit less specific than some of the band's earlier efforts—still different from the norm, just a bit more open as opposed to a full-on "storytelling" approach:

Sometimes all these things might come to pass
But then I think that they won't last
So I'm, checkin' out
Tide comes in, tide goes out
Sun comes up, sun goes down
Sometimes all these things might come to pass
But then I think that they won't last
So I'm, buggin' out...

Pressed on clear red vinyl in a plain chipboard sleeve (with a sticker and a download code) that's hand-numbered out of 300 copies, there's a color photocopy insert with some artwork and credits. No lyrics, unfortunately, but at least they're on Bandcamp. What makes the packaging truly special and totally fuckin' badass, however, is the actual cover: a thick 12" x 12" insert of wood paneling lifted from the band's condemned former practice space/recording studio in Allston, MA. The band name and EP title are burned into the paneling, so every copy is unique, and it's awesome. Such a cool touch... I mean, it's literally a piece of history!

Black Helicopter is just one of many, many Boston-area bands that have long been deserving of more attention, so seek out their back catalog—in addition to this rock-solid 12"—if you like what you hear above...

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