HÆLOS are all about the comedown: the moment when reality hits.
Their debut Full Circle felt like those times when you hide yourself away in a dark corner of the club for an introspective chat that maybe gets a little too deep for a fun night out on £1 pints.
Their second album Any Random Kindness, now with touring guitarist Daniel Vildósola part of the fold, is much of the same. Only this time, they say, attentions are turned towards the power of technology over our lives. Any Random Kindness doesn’t quite dig into the subject as much as they proclaim it does, but what we see instead is still a remarkable knack for building captivating mood pieces.
Lotti Benardout’s vocals do a lot of the work here, floating in the same space as London Grammar’s Hannah Reid’s; powerfully elevated above our plane of existence. Something recognisable but unreachable. Dislocated from the world we know ever so slightly. Couple this with the swooping strings and Vangelis-lite synths of opener “Another Universe” and it can create something truly impressive.
“Deep State”, which puts Arthur Delaney’s blues-tinged voice to the forefront, combines clean, crisp guitars with minimal beats that burst like bubbles to evoke a world where the real and the digital are at loggerheads.
HÆLOS’ inspirations are quite clearly worn on their sleeves in lead single “Kyoto” where Benardout recalls Beth Gibbons’ ghostly vocals over mournful pianos that could have easily been taken from Radiohead circa Hail To The Thief.
But under the magnificent atmospheres that Any Random Kindness builds, what HÆLOS are actually singing about feels lost. Though that thread of feeling disconnected from the real world thanks to the prevalence of technology does exist, the soundscapes do a much better job of achieving this than anything the band have to say.
There are vague references to “zeros and ones” and “email chains that never end”, but it all seems mostly empty. Wishy-washy allusions that would much rather let the listener do all the leg work. Any Random Kindness presents us with a half-baked lyrical thread when letting us just float in the aura it builds would be more effective.
As with “Buried In Sand”, the vocals work much better when utilised as another instrument. Delaney’s voice glitches in and out of existence, while Benardout seems in a totally different realm altogether. Two people separated by an immeasurable distance.
Similarly, Delaney’s scream of “What have you done?” on “Deep State” seem hauntingly lost, unable to reach their intended recipient, even if that recipient is himself. He knows his message is not getting through, adrift among the noise, but he knows he needs to keep trying.
Rich in texture and enveloping atmosphere, Any Random Kindness unfortunately lets its lyrical content fall to the wayside. While this gives more space to let the incredible soundscapes breathe, it also feels like the real emotional punch to back them up is lacking. It is, at its core, mood without the real meaning to make it truly great.