Brandon Summers has had to endure a lot. Following the critical success of The Helio Sequence's third album and SubPop premiere Love and Distance, the wear and tear of touring alongside such indie super groups as Blonde Redhead, Modest Mouse, and Kings of Leon, made Summers crack. Literally. The vocalist, half of the dreamy duo, suffered severe damage to his vocal folds, so much so that the fate of Summer's speaking ability, let alone that of the band, came into question. At first, the performer did what any super-cool, super-tortured artist would in his position: drink. A lot. With his guitar gathering dust in the corner, Summers sought the company of two warm gents named Jack (Daniels) and Jim (Beam). Chalk it up to label pressures, band mate Benjamin Weikel's threats of violence or even the unwanted liquor chub, but the singer/guitarist has finally pulled himself out of this self-[dis]satisfied stupor, and is back with a profound new sound on the recent release Keep Your Eyes Ahead (SubPop).
Keep Your Eyes Ahead is a testament to Summers' maturation as an artist, and The Helio Sequence's development as a whole. Over the course of ten tracks, listeners navigate the songwriter's own struggles with ephemeral success and the search for an identity beyond that of song titles and cover art. Steeped in reverberation, "Lately" kicks off the album with graceful, elegiac style. Drumbeats double over like flashes of love and loss in the singer's memory. We question the narrator's resolve; proud declarations of a life alone undercut by rhythmic pangs. The song alternates between alienation and ascension; echoing qualities can either be taken to indicate the artist's isolation or validation of self. Perhaps the biggest influence on the album is Bob Dylan, who Summer listened to constantly while recovering. "You Can Come to Me" blends poppy synth and acoustics with vocals that are an outright tribute to the great folk poet. With titles like "Shed Your Love", the album is packed with profound one-liners on life and livelihood, meditations on surviving loneliness and too much to drink. By the time we reach this story's end, faith in our hero's skill is restored, his eyes looking unabashedly ahead at the future and ours on him. - Megan Diamondstein