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The Helio Sequence: Negotiations (Sub Pop)

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Nobody does shimmering cool quite like the Helio Sequence.

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With sparse instrumentation—guitars, keyboards and drums—and a sense of all-enveloping reverb, the Oregon duo of Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel essentially spins gold from hay.

Four years after the exceptional Keep Your Eyes Ahead comes Negotiations, a similarly exceptional album that finds the band molding a palpable sense of late-night solitude into songs that blend dreamscapes with a sci-fi sense of mystery and wonder.

It's an album that examines different shades of solitude and isolation—self-reflection, longing, regret and determination—sometimes comforting, sometimes haunting. The gatefold album art captures that essence: a midnight view from a tree-crowded overlook, with Portland shining quietly below.

Lead-single "October" examines how the tangled lines of personal freedom trip up relationships. "In a perfect world / There would be no divide / In a perfect world / We could both open up / And see the other side," Summers sings.

"Downward Spiral" follows, with its bleakly descending keyboard line mirroring the song's lyrics. With little in the way of details, Summers describes the helplessness of watching repeated mistakes destroy someone.

One of the best records of 2012, Negotiations balances its downer moments with beauty and hope, aiming for an everything-in-its-right-place perfection—and succeeding with astonishing ease.

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