The latest album from Canberra's Helena Pop has been out for a couple of weeks now, and the more I listen to it, the more I fall in love with its eccentricities.
Some of the tracks from "A Little Human Connection" have been on the band's live roster for what seems like years now, yet watching them change and evolve has kept them fresh and relevant. This formula has been a highlight for any fan of the band's live show, and It's allowed them to really flourish and explore their sound, which is really hard to nail to a genre. I think that's my favourite thing about Helena Pop! (See the new guitar bits in "All I've Got")
To so many audiences, Helena Pop have brought so much energy to so many rooms, each in a different way, with their own flavour, costumes, lights, make-up, and that 100% energy that keeps us coming back.
I've always been perplexed as to how Helena Pop could possibly bring that vibe to record, but the truth is, A little Human Connection doesn't need to rely on the live show. This album brings it's own vibe. The band has created so much density in beauty and strings and samples, all the while keeping the raw, honest emotion of Jack's writing, and the band's unwavering support of this sound.
While I could go on about the use of dynamics, effects, varied instrumentation to emotion to the recordings, I thought it might be nice to hear from the band about what went into making these tracks that are all so different, yet all fit their place in "A Little Human Connection"
Helena Pop - A Little Human Connection
Better Homes and Gardens
Switch on the television at the local motel you’ve stopped at. Move the antenna until the picture becomes clear. Another episode of Better Homes and Gardens blairs out of the tinny speakers.
This song recounts the moments of salience that break through drunken nights sitting in the back of cars, staring up at the ceiling on sleepless nights, and planning out the future.
Better Homes and Gardens was in A and Camp Pelican is in F. In order to transport us down those several semitones and up to Nambucca (that second part might be wrong) Ash made this beautiful celebration of polycarbonate roofing.
I’ve been told these 18 seconds are full of secrets. In general I’m not sure what they are.
Lost at Camp Pelican
This song isn’t the oldest on the album but contains the oldest sample. The first version of this song was a phone recording on the porch of Jack’s parent’s house in the rain at 2am. The song changed a lot since then but fragments of the initial recording remain in the song’s various sections. The song moves through turbulent wilderness, gothic grandeur, impotent rage and finally arrives at an acceptance through self reflection. Synthesizing your pasts is a key aspect of becoming your present self.
The Chicxulub Creator
Picture an intrepid, out of breath educational video presenter standing on the edge of a shallow ditch. After a brief explanation on the history of the famous Chicxulub Crater in Mexico, we cut to five brightly coloured dinosaur friends on a bleak, yellow mountaintop. They dance, unfazed by the flaming mass growing larger and brighter in the corner of the screen. COVID sucks because it means we didn’t get to make the Chicxulub video clip.
Little Thunder The Wonder Car
Ash came up with the title of this song, and to me it encapsulates the thing perfectly. There is weather, fragility, magic and cars. The thing about cars is that good action is pretty much always happening outside the car, or inside the car. Like eye spy. Wonder cars are no different, and neither is this song.
The first half of this song features Jack by himself, as his voice drifts away other members of the band gradually begin emerging from the tape hiss which constitutes the noise floor of this song. The instrumental parts of the song move like circles as if the band members are wind-up automatons accompanying the acoustic guitar as it meanders out of existence.
The Perfect Take
These 20 seconds of phone recording predate the recording of the rest of the album by several months. I think this is in the period where Jack was imagining the album as a low budget film for German audiences (prior to Jono’s involvement).
We are also playing our usual instruments here (see below) despite it sounding like it’s my first time finding a piano and I’ve only worked out the one chord.
Oh! What a Shame!
Cathy: In the spirit of things Cathy and Dan are writing about Oh! What a Shame! collaboratively.
Dan: But we did not collaborate. (Or haven’t yet?)
Cathay: Oh dear.
Dan: Perhaps this will do?
Cathy: Yes. The album is being released in the morning.
Nietzsche’s Not My Teacher
This song places you as the protagonist in a campy horror movie, the vampiric seduction of nihilism hypnotizes you and you almost succumb to its allure. You break free for a moment and the setting changes to a nostalgic golden age romance, but nothingness lingers in the background. The only way out is through, you must stare down the void with defiance and push the hell out of that boulder.
Adult Boy Problems
Everything in this song happened to Jack and now it’s happening to you. I think. Just like Livo not to scream.
A lovely moment to which I might draw your attention is at 2:44 where the five of us set off party poppers in Jack’s childhood bedroom. Jono is sitting at the table up against the window recording among the quilts and sewing equipment - which is obviously harder to hear.
Faith Some More
The structure of the stanzas that make up the verses of the first section of the song follow a repeating pattern, comparing warm and cold, the stable and unstable, both in lyrical content and in musical arrangement. This serves to highlight the bizarre closeness of faith that veils itself in love. In the second section this veil is shattered revealing the true nature of the closeness, oppressive, frightening, and suffocating. When this wasteland of harsh guitar, ethereal voices, and glitchy beats dies down, what are we left with? Empty hopes of healing.
All I’ve Got
I feel like we would have played this song in the very first Helena Pop rehearsals back in December of 2014. And in truth, the song had stayed more or less the same since then. Objectively the best things about it are Cathy’s guitar solos which just roar through what everyone else is doing and bind it all together. We’ve done many silly things on this album in pursuit of making music we love, and it just feels so reassuring that we have this song as the closer. After all the turmoil of ‘Faith Some More’ this is a little reminder that it’s sort of all just about having fun with your friends.