Wall of sound
Helen Kelter Skelter’s new album is a turbulent, fuzzy ride
Helen Kelter Skelter
Each dense, chaotic second of sound Helen Kelter Skelter puts out contains months or years of work and a lifetime of musical experience forged into a single moment. The Norman-based rock band’s new album, Melter, contains nearly an hour of those seconds.
Helen Kelter Skelter is guitarist/vocalist Eli Wimmer, guitarist Tim Gregory, bassist Cody Clifton, keyboard player Jay Jamison, and drummer Scott Twitchell. Melter, which features drums from the band’s former drummer Nathan Harwell, is HKS’s sophomore full-length, out Jan. 19 on Chainsaw Kittens frontman Tyson Meade’s Shaking Shanghai imprint.
Melter—a wall of sound—was recorded over 2016 at Gregory’s and Wimmer’s respective homes, as well as at Bell Labs Recording Studio in Norman. Contained therein is HKS’s signature mix of psychedelic rock, enveloping an array of flourishes: There are piano lines reminiscent of a villainous Bond anthem, heavy guitar riffs that bring to mind the best of ‘70s glam rock, and ultra-heavy drum and bass lines mingling with effects pedals and all manner of sounds that can only come from months of studio experimentation.
“I would go to Tim’s house to record minimal, skeleton song structures,” said Wimmer. “Not one of them was like, ‘Alright, let’s write a song.’”
“Yeah, everything was written as we recorded. Instead of, ‘I’ve got this song,’ it was, ‘Let’s fuck around,’ and then it became a song,” Gregory said.
This patient approach helps explain the many layers of Melter, a turbulent, fuzzy ride that, while possessing its fair share of musical twists and turns, comes across as a cohesive, confident statement record. It’s high-speed shoegaze, game show psychedelia, bratty punk, and garage rock. It’s surprising here and there, yet it promises to satisfy listeners’ potential pop sensibilities. Wimmer called the band “unshy” about showing its influences, and that rings true.
“It actually is the sound we were going for,” Gregory said. “We want to write songs like a band we want to listen to.”
“I thought it was going to sound much more brash. Trent [Bell, of Bell Labs] really mixed the shit out of it,” Wimmer said. “It came out a lot shinier and more put-together than I thought.”
In concert with the apparent technical skill from each instrument is a surprising (for a rock band) respect for preserving the integrity and idea of a song, reining in jamming and solos to keep the beat driving.
Many of the band members have long resumes with area groups (among them Pidgin Band, Robots in the Sky, Gravity Propulsion System, and Creep City) spanning multiple genres, with Helen Kelter Skelter acting as the culmination of all of that taste and experience. When you put that many influences into a single song, things get loud.
“Real loud,” Wimmer said. “Not completely loud in an unstructured way, though.”
Gregory agreed: “We don’t just blare ... but bring your earplugs.”
They’ll flaunt those decibels for a run of album release shows, including two in Norman Jan. 12 and 13 and a Jan. 20 date at Mercury Lounge. For anyone who wants to take them home, they’ve pressed 100 ultra-clear and 400 black vinyl, as well as some CDs, for the occasion.
Beyond Melter, HKS is anxious to do a bit of touring here and there to build on their growing fanbase in nearby college towns like Lawrence and Fayetteville. Then they’ll get to work on new material for Helen Kelter Skelter 3.0, whatever that may be.
To hazard a guess, the heavier playing style of Twitchell might factor into the project—“He’s definitely amped up our songs,” Gregory said—just as literally anything someone in HKS heard and liked recently might.
“I found a whole bunch of new bands to think about,” Wimmer said. “Not leaving anything behind, but we have a lot more to go alongside it all.”
Of the band’s forthcoming songs, Gregory said something that won’t surprise anyone who listens to Melter for more than a single second: “Totally different. We want to do something different now.”