An folktronica trailblazer returns with a new twist on his craft.
For a little over a decade, Keith Kenniff’s output as Helios has taken us into calm and pastoral surroundings. Since 2004, the Berklee College of Music percussion major and Portland, Oregon resident’s albums have been consistently soundtracking listeners’ cozy mornings as they watch sunbeams stream through curtains, stroll in the woods after a fresh rain, and take part in similarly contemplative moments. But Kenniff’’s work is far from new-age muzak or Buddha Bar chill-out drivel. Rather, it’s a serenely unpretentious mix of intricate electronic compositions accented by acoustic instrumentation—folktronica by another name—a sound that Kenniff unwittingly pioneered.
Although that awkward genre term (which encompass anything from folky IDM, to artists like Four Tet, Bibio or Caribou and postrock bands Mice Parade or The Album Leaf) hardly seems apt to describe Kenniff’s music these days, it does hint at the depth and craft that he applies on this album. Kenniff, who also moonlights in neoclassical project Goldmund and as half of shoegaze pop duo Mint Julep, delivers a tremendously satisfying creation—all instrumentals, all saturated with blissful notes and chords.
Each piece on Yume (Japanese for “dream”) is delicately stitched together, like silk through a weaving loom, producing soft and colorfully patterned songs. Throughout, Kenniff’s frequent but unobtrusive use of guitars and piano add a distinctly human touch to the gentle and melodic synth atmospherics. Additionally, cellist Amos Cochran and violist Ben Davis add nuance to songs like “Skies Minus” and “The Roots”; their strings sit in the background, shimmering through the waves ever so subtly. Thankfully, there are no melodramatic orchestral flourishes; instead, the instrumentation, including some unexpected sonic sources, is blended and arranged to lead from one complementary section to the next.
While bird songs, creaking floors and other environmental “found sounds” have been incorporated in previous works, they’re more thoroughly integrated on Yume. You hear these sampled elements notably on “Sonora Lac,” where they form an evocative percussive backdrop that scrapes and rattles along like a mule pulling a wagon along a dirt road. Songs like “Pearls” and “Every Passing Hour,” which recalls the placid majesty of “The Toy Garden” from ‘06 release Eingya, feature more traditional drum loops and percussion.
Balancing the proceedings are gorgeous percussion-free, ambient numbers “Again” and “Embrace,” which feel like being drenched in rose petals or floating through clouds. In the end, Kenniff’s compositions journey out into natural green landscapes, and bring us back to wherever we call home. The world is a hectic place. It’s nice to know you can retreat to Yume for refuge and restoration.