As with any era of music, it’s inevitably only a matter of time before the next generation pays homage by reinterpreting its defining sounds for a new audience. We’ve seen a surfeit of ’80s influenced electro-pop in recent years but increasingly, the sonic trends of the 1990s are re-emerging.
Britpop may have gained the most headlines and the heftiest record sales, but there’s a strong argument that trip-hop, that peculiarly Bristolian genre of reggae, dub and soul influenced slow burning ‘dance’ music that first announced itself with Massive Attack’s classic Blue Lines album in 1991, is the UK’s most enduring musical legacy of the decade. It’s evident that East London trio HÆLOS think so, as their debut album could have been transported in a time capsule from the West Country of 20 odd years ago, via a brief detour to the contemporary South London of The xx and Burial.
The three members of HÆLOS decided to collaborate after working together on separate projects; Arthur Delaney and Dom Goldsmith were already developing material under the HÆLOS moniker, while Lotti Benardout had been writing with Goldsmith who was producing an EP for her at the time. The darkly soulful 2014 single Dust was the first finished work to come from the trio’s newly formed union; over the course of the next few months, the rest of Full Circle’s tracks came together.
What’s striking about this debut record is its confidence and immediately vivid mood. Opening vignette Intro/Spectrum is dripping in cinematic tension and crepuscular ambience, with a dramatic War Of The Worlds style voice over leading in to first track proper Pray. At this point, Benardout’s multi-tracked, breathy vocals take centre stage, backed by propulsive beats that recall the uplifting, house-influenced dance music of the early 1990s.
It’s only with the arrival of the title track that the trip-hop and The xx influences take centre stage, with the late night atmospheric and alternating male/female vocals particularly reminiscent of the latter. It’s followed shortly by Oracle, a five minute plus quiet epic which is perhaps Full Circle’s highlight. A succession of intricately crafted, stark, echoing rhythms, featuring Benardout’s most assured vocal performance, it is a near-perfect distillation of the post-club comedown vibe. Not far behind is closing track Pale, a searing, oppressive opus that would fit seamlessly onto Massive Attack’s underrated 100th Window album. One of HÆLOS’s real strengths is the depth of textures they use in their music and on Pale, the use of coruscating electric guitar and stabs of organ alongside Benardout’s clubby vocals creates a sense of real energy and menace.
On the downside, the Londoners do struggle a little to maintain the quality control over an entire album, and some of the songs here do sound rather similar; pedestrian, over-long and lacking memorable hooks. But that’s probably to be expected for a band still at an early stage of their development. Full Circle is a promising start for a trio of artists who already possess a clear vision of the type of music they want to create. The chances are they will only improve with time to grow their songcraft and ideas further.