By Susanna De Martino
If there’s one lesson to be taken from A Dot Running for the Dust — Lost Sessions, the latest EP from Portland-based band Helvetia, it’s that banal but all-important law of the digital age: back up your data. The album, which was presumed dead after frontman Jason Albertini’s computer “exploded after sitting in a hot van for too long,” would have been a shame to lose. Fortunately, some of the tracks had been previously backed up, and are being released a year and a half after their creation.
After moving in a simpler direction on their previous album, Nothing in Rambling, Helvetia returns to their more freewheeling, experimental ways on A Dot, a record which is reminiscent of their older, psychedelic-inspired work. The legacy of Rambling is still there — the slow, droney intro to “Meadow Neck,” for example, could have come off that album — but for the most part this album is faster, more varied, and less of a cohesive unit than its predecessor; even “Meadow Neck” picks up halfway through, swinging into distorted, riffing guitars, and ending with Albertini chanting the same phrase over and over.
Most songs follow this trend of seemingly disconnected components; the moment the album seems to settle comfortably into any one style or structure, it shifts into something completely different. This gives A Dot a fragmented, playful energy, and the lack of musical interconnection is often reflected in its lyrics (“Working on the nuts you’re peelin’ / Sacrificial beeday bleeding / You’ve got brussels / I’ve got access” sings Albertini, rattling off a rhyming verse on “Meadow Neck,” whose words seem more preoccupied with how they sound than what they mean). Many songs have only a handful of unique lines, like “We Are The Vegetables,” whose title is simply repeated over and over, and sounds like The Wiggles meeting Brazilian Money’s spacey, shrieking background vocals and mellow guitar lines. Albertini’s voice is one of the album’s few constants, his largely hushed and calm tone providing a nice counterbalance to songs jam-packed with kaleidoscopic musical references.
Helvetia have been making albums for nearly ten years — A Dot is their ninth LP, and before that, Albertini and bandmate Canaan Dove Amber were part of another group, Duster. Musicians who have honed their skills together for this long have the ability to make unrestricted music that doesn’t sound disorganized, and it seems that after trying hushed (relative) simplicity, they’ve decided that this is what suits them best. Fans can expect another album from Helvetia in October; in the meantime, we’re left to wonder what the unsalvageable tracks on Albertini’s laptop sounded like, and wish that they had survived.