Beauty in simplicity
Homeshake is the Montreal-based solo musical project of Peter Sagar. A few years ago, Sagar quit the live band of indie superstar Mac DeMarco in order to focus on Homeshake’s music. The effort has paid off, as Sagar has developed a healthy following on Bandcamp and has racked up over a million views on YouTube. Sagar’s instrument of choice for his first three albums has been the guitar, but citing a “creative dead-end,” he has switched to synthesizers on his new album, Helium. Guitars pop up now and then, but they are not front and center like they used to be.
The music on Helium can be called bedroom pop, due to the lo-fi sound of the recording. Expect to hear quiet and easy-going music meant for isolated listening. The core instruments are keyboards, drums and vocals. Sagar’s lilting voice dances in the upper registers and is comfortable with falsetto. Drum machines form simple but effective beats inspired by hip-hop. Summery, beach-ready guitars also occasionally show up. All instruments are caressed with a fine layer of dreamy reverb, but the most central sound of all is the synthesizer, and Sagar likes one keyboard in particular. These “sweet-and-sour” keys enter the air on-pitch (sweet) but instantly melt into the surrounding notes (sour). Everything is a little blurry and out-of-focus, giving the listener the sensation of being underwater.
Sonically, this album is bliss. It deftly executes a balancing act; it is relaxing without being sleepy. It is dreamy without becoming aimless. Additionally, Helium is an album that exudes loneliness. There is a vast emptiness between the instruments in the mix, a space in which the instruments bleed together. This is an album to get lost in because it feels like floating in space.
The bedroom nature of the production and the simplicity of the arrangements make this album incredibly endearing. The drum beats sound like they were made on a computer program by one person, and the mix contains only two or three other instruments. “Just Like My” features a looped drum beat, quiet piano chords, some rustling of chimes and brief accompaniment by saxophone. It is really cute. The “secret track” at the end of the album is an instrumental that sounds like a day with nothing out of place. The song features a simple drum line, a simple keyboard line and quiet washed-out vocals. The song closes out with the vocals disappearing and being replaced by a diddling guitar line that plays hypnotically until the end. The album ends as quietly as it began.
The album’s intro track “Early” does a great job of setting the scene for the whole album. The track starts with silence, into which faint chimes start to creep. Then melancholy keyboards enter. The rhythm that the keys are attempting to tap out is clear, but they stumble around like a child first learning to play the piano. This childlike character is audible throughout the album.
The sound of Helium is impeccable, but the songwriting and vocals are a bit lackluster. Songs are not memorable, to the point where there is no single song from this album worth hearing on its own. Vocals are sweet, but are too soft on impact and are not very emotive. Sagar even admits that he has insecurities about his singing voice on the song “Like Mariah.”
Helium demonstrates beauty in simplicity; simple parts combine to charm and disarm on the tracks of the album. The album is so innocent it evokes nostalgia for grandmother’s soup. The soup is not of restaurant-quality, because it is unsightly and contains strange ingredients. However, these are also the things that make the soup familiar and comforting. When a child swallows a spoonful, the child is engulfed in its warmth.