Chris Helme is back with breath taking new album, ‘The Rookery’, an album that whisks you on a mood evoking walk into a haunting, mythological era, taking away the realities of 21st Century living into how we used to be. The album itself is mellow and relaxed in nature with the use of string arrangements and odd little atmospheric sounds that create intrigue. With several musicians participating, the sound seems to take you back to the roots of Helme’s birthplace, capturing the supernatural and historical characteristics of York. The album is clever enough to be current and modern, but in certain instances creates a feeling of uneasiness associated with the presence of York. There’s an underlying theme of eeriness as well as powerful emotion, not only in the music, but in Helme’s lyrics itself, taken from personal and other people’s experiences.
The album’s mood is set with instrumental opener, ‘Pickled Ginger’, a soft acoustic track with use of a flute that gives it a happy, care free, summer medieval feel. ‘Longway Round’ follows, again acoustically based, soft and mellow but with Helme’s melting voice that displays all the talent that made him an instant star in the first place. It is one of the stand out tracks on the album. The song may be a tribute to Helme’s journey within music so far, finally becoming comfortable with the direction now taken as the lyrics fade out too, “Now you’ve found yourself”. ‘Darkest Days’ is slower and heart felt with fine use of the banjo and strings that really make the song one of dark, deep sentiment. ‘Plane’ plunges into a sinister emotional mood about feeling lost and thinking about giving up hope, highlighted with great lines such as, “When you’re awake are you sick with your dreams, the cold wind just blows you back down. Turn this plane around. Get your feet on the ground”. Again the use of the strings coupled with Helme’s voice really touches the soul. ‘The Spindle and Cauldron’ is the heaviest track on the album, very haunting and eerie in the music and in Helme’s voice about a woman who is described as ‘the devil’s daughter’ who metaphorically casts spells that instantly draws you to her against your better judgement. ‘Blindeye’ is a song that twists halfway through. It initially begins very mellow and acoustic orientated but once the strings kick in there are underlying spates of ghostly agitation. ‘Pleased’, as announced in the live set is about the problems of alcoholism, a dark, evocative, yet heart wrenching portrayal of the disease. ‘Daddies Farm’ is upbeat, full guitar and drum influence without the use of strings. The bass forms most of the sound for the verses until the step up in tempo for the chorus brings in pace similar to that coming from the modern indie scene today. ‘Summer Girl’ slows the pace back down again, very soft and gentle, predominately made up of smooth acoustic guitar. A really cool, beautiful song that summons visions of love, a song that would be fitting to grace any soundtrack of a film that captures this moment. ‘Set in Stone,’ seems to be about confusing feelings around relationships. Again, predominately acoustic guitar with string arrangements, but its tone is darker with lyrics a little more powerful and sadder where some form of reality of love and life sets in. Finally, ‘Good to be in Love’, seems to be the realisation and acceptance of knowing what you’ve got. Again, a very warm and heart felt ballad with shades of eeriness in the strings, but it is a liberating song that can open up the most hardened of men.
All in all, ‘The Rookery’ is a very solid well structured album with bags of experience and talent coming from the array of musical instruments used. Chris Helme once again does justice with his voice that forced John Squire to snap him up all those years ago. He still has that soothing, emotive voice in abundance and his direction can instantly capture hearts and souls. I’m also beginning to see why he wanted to take his own career in a different musical direction away from the rockier sound of ‘The Seahorses’ that launched his career. With the album being mellow, eerie, medieval like in parts with an affiliation to York, his voice and style seems more accustomed to this method rather than the faster, upbeat sound of indie rock.
The album launch at Salford Sacred Trinity Church put a different slant on the album. Firstly there were no strings involved, just five guys, four on guitar and one on drums playing the songs in a more familiar band set up. The acoustics inside the church were amazing and befitting to the undertone of ethereal and medieval character the album cites, really suiting the nature of the songs. Full credit to ‘House of Cards promotions’ who organised the launch in such a powerful setting, truly giving recognition to the bands overall flair. With the band now embarking on an extensive UK tour promoting the album, it is highly advised to experience the show if the opportunity presents itself.
The album is available to buy from www.chrishelme.co.uk
To read the interview with Chris at the album launch show click here
Review by Nigel Cartner - photos by Matt Johnston