At this point, Peter Sagar is no stranger to the game. For years, he was the backing lead-guitarist in Mac DeMarco’s touring band. During this period, he recorded a few tapes under the name Homeshake, gaining Sagar a fair amount of individual attention. In 2014, he parted ways with DeMarco in order to focus more on Homeshake as a full-time project. Since then he has released three full length albums under the moniker, which have become cult classics amongst his considerable number of loyal fans.
As a whole, Homeshake has always been dialed back a bit compared to his former friend and collaborator DeMarco. Sagar’s solo work often opts out of high energy, fast-paced guitar music for a more sedated and R&B tinged sound. This laid back sound reflects a lot on Sagar’s personal work ethic and approach to music. While touring with DeMarco, known for his relentless tour schedules, Sagar used to play up to about a hundred shows a year. This is something he has opened up about and admits was quite exhausting for him and a big reason for his departure. Since focusing solely on Homeshake, Sagar has done a complete 180 in this respect; releasing music consistently, but staggered, and keeping touring light and more laxed.
Adhering to a less-is-more philosophy, Sagar has dropped the formality of recording in the studio, as he did with previous full-lengths, for this newest record, which was recorded entirely from the comfort of his own home. This laid-back approach to recording can be heard throughout Helium. Homeshake’s sound has always been fairly sedated, but on this album, we are hearing an even more mellow Homeshake than we did on previous records. Trading out front-and-center guitars and live drums for synthesizers and drum machines, this newest record abandons some of Sagar’s jazz-rock based influences for a more ambient electronic-R&B fusion sound that is far less immediate and catchy than previous releases.
Homeshake records have never been known for making big splashes sonically, but with Helium, upon a first listen, you find yourself being less aware of where these songs end and where they begin. Although some might say this a shortcoming of the album, calling it lackluster or saying it sounds haphazardly thrown together, I would say that it does a good job of capturing where we are at this point in music. A moment where the masses seem to be obsessed with self-made bedroom pop that catches us in a “vibe”.
This is not to say that this album is some super self-aware meta-commentary on the current state of music listenership, but one gets the sense that Sagar is at the very least passively aware of all of this. The first line of the album gestures to a digital age where “Everyone lives in my cell phone”. It could be said that this time of homogeneity is one where Sagar has prospered, as a musician whose “vibey” music seems to blend in with any given moment that it is presented in.
Helium is a record that does not dance around the fact that it is meant for staying inside and tuning out to. This sentiment of homebodiness is a common theme lyrically throughout the entire album; pick a random song off the tracklist and your bound to hear at least one lyric about opting out of having social interactions and “laying home alone instead”. One of the songs where this is the case, “Nothing Could Be Better”, despite its withdrawn subject matter, is one of the more immediate and catchy songs on the whole album. Bursting with deep synth hits paired with a sweet falsetto chorus, “Nothing could be better, Better than you”, make it a warm and pleasant high point of the album.
Although this may not exactly be Homeshake’s most energetic or ambitious endeavor; the whole project itself is just a tad over 30 minutes long with half of the listed tracks being short instrumental interludes, there is something commendable about what Sagar manages to achieve with seemingly little effort. “All Night Long”, one of the most bizarre tracks on the album, begins with a haunting piano passage that sounds like it was taken out of a Chicago drill instrumental and transitions into a floating, synthy chorus.
“Just Like My” is another odd-ball track that despite its quirks manages to drill its way into your head. It’s one of the songs where Sagar shows how he manages to make the most of his lack of vocal prowess. The song’s trembling backing falsettos, while totally bizarre, still manage to remain incredibly repeatable, after I heard the song I could not stop myself from impersonating the fidgety half-sing-half-whimper way he sings “Heeeeelium”.
As contemporaries of Sagar’s are constantly trying to redefine their sounds and jump outside the box, while in the process making it abundantly clear that they are trying to do so, he jumps from one style to the next with hardly any effort. Albeit, it certainly is not that large of a departure from his projects to this one, but the shift is still noticeable. All the while, he still manages to create something enjoyable without having to pull out all the stops.
Review By: Nolen Riedel