The Heliocentrics have shown themselves to be a prolific, virtuosic and versatile outfit, capable of moving between collaborations with such diverse partners as Mulatu Astatke, DJ Shadow and Lloyd Miller without losing their identity. What they have steered away from using up until now is a vocalist. Step forward Barbora Patkova, a Slovakian singer who brings a new set of possibilities to their sound – which A World Of Masks finds them ideally positioned to explore.
What is great here is that Patkova’s introduction does not see the group move towards a more conventional, song based approach. Far from it. Instead the group’s experimental tendencies encourage them to be instinctive, to use the voice for primal means as well as lyrical, while tapping into their ultimately psychedelic approach.
Made Of The Sun is a powerful introduction to the new sound, a kind of vocal cadenza that Patkova dominates from start to finish, but the hazy title track is confirmation of her value to the band, starting off with flutes but bringing her voice to the fore as the music gains power and momentum.
The instrumentals are just as vividly coloured as the vocal tracks. The blaring brass of Human Zoo is one example, as are the violin tremolos that dominate the weird Dawn Chorus. The beats continue as a heady mixture of styles, as they always have with The Heliocentrics. They bring in elements of hip hop, jazz and pure psychedelia, often given extra white noise to blur the edges.
It is the touches such as the shrill violins deep into Capital Of Alone, or the weird keyboard that spooks out the start of The Silverback, that continue to give the band their originality. Dawn Chorus shows the kind of musical freedom they still enjoy, as does Time, a hazy expansion of a set of loops and vocals, complemented by a violin. The approach is mostly analogue, though Square Wave shows they can employ a gritty electronic bass hook when needed.
This approach can on occasion lose focus, but rarely threatens to become overindulgence, with most of the tracks capped around the three minute mark. The more substantial ones suggest the band could in the end become fully improvised, especially now they have Patkova up their sleeve, and the extra expression she brings to the table should be enhanced over time.
The Heliocentrics, then, are in a good place. They continue to build on their obvious ability as musical chameleons, evading capture as they flit from one musical style and approach to another, with hip hop and psychedelia as their common ground. It is a journey that proves every bit as colourful and eventful as A World Of Masks’ cover suggests it should be.