After the dissolution of the LA-based space rock band Duster, former drummer Jason Albertini moved up to Seattle and founded the experimental indie rock group, Helvetia. Named after the female personification of Switzerland (Albertini’s childhood home), Helvetia’s music combines the reverb-drenched guitar effects of space rock with the percussions of a classy jazz outfit. With a lineup seemingly stuck in eternal rotation, Helvetia’s music is anything but homogenous. Albertini’s songwriting partners have included other former Duster members, bassist Mike Johnson of Dinosaur Jr., Doug Martsch of Built to Spill, and many, many more. The band’s breadth of songwriting ability and large music catalog is impressive: since their full-length debut A Clever North Wind dropped in 2006, Helvetia have released four other studio albums and three compilations, and continue to release new songs on their Facebook page about once a week.
Due to the difficulties I would no doubt face attempting to summarize the full-blown Helvetia musical experience for you, I’ve picked a few of my personal favorites that I feel exhibit the most important themes. Here goes nothing:
“Old, New Bicycle”: This was my first favorite, and continues to give me chills every time that tasty rolling tom fill introduces the song. This track (like many others) can be categorized by its cohesive yet dueling nature. The jazzy percussion hardly changes throughout the entire track, allowing a strong surface for the multiple guitar and vocal parts to “duke it out” on. The rhythm guitar is smooth, unfolding easily into the lo-fi atmosphere the drums have created. But before long, the lead guitar rips an off-kilter solo that builds with intensity and cuts out just when it was ready to burst, giving way to the higher-pitched vocal melody, both of which complement the lower tonality of the rhythm parts perfectly. The lead guitar continues its competition for space throughout the song, challenging the other parts ferociously but intelligently conceding when the overlap would be too much. This allows the song to ebb and flow intensely and gracefully, leaving the listener panting for more by its finish.
“RyBro”: From their latest album Nothing in Rambling (2012), this chunky alt-rock jam incorporates two rhythm guitars, this time working with the vocals in rhythmic stops. Just as before, the theme of competition persists, with the lead ripping in once vocals drop out. This track’s bridge part is entirely unique, taking cues from space rock predecessors in order to create a temporary dream-world for the listener to float around in for a little while. The trance is broken with a classically intense (and fantastically groovy) solo to bring us all back down to earth.
“In Every Hour” [BONUS TRACK]: After an especially long day of drowning myself in spacey jams, I came upon this gem in the depths of the internet – a previously unreleased track from who knows when. Unlike the others mentioned above, this song is as mellow as Helvetia’s music gets, featuring parts that actually work together for its entirety! Although periodically interrupted by rhythmic blasts from the chorus, the lead is entirely complementary of the laid-back vibe this tune gives off. Albertini’s vocal harmonies give a haunted hue, turning this dream into a wonderfully creepy nightmare.