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The closing song from Grouper's 2014 album Ruins is called 'Made of Air', and it's a pretty accurate way of summing up the music Liz Harris has been making under that name for the last few years. For all of the loops and effects that she layered her songs with, they have always had a way remaining surprisingly stark in nature, feeling as if they could dissipate at any moment. Though you wouldn't likely accuse her of making especially uplifting music, it has always possessed a certain amount of aching beauty. On her newest project Helen however, Harris is pushing her music in a pop-oriented direction and is making something comparatively cheerful in the process. It retains the stark and ethereal beauty of her solo work, but the addition of Eternal Tapestry drummer Jed Bindeman, bassist-guitarist Scott Simons (and purportedly a third member simply known as "Helen") means that it is fleshed out with a little structure but without being suffocated.

Despite the claim that Helen was originally conceived as a thrash project, their music is clearly indebted to shoegaze, as the majority of the songs on their debut album The Original Faces are draped in hazy layers of guitars and effects pedals while Harris' voice reverberates from just beneath the surface, taking on the form of another effect or instrument and rendering her words difficult to decipher at times, which is probably the point.

Shoegaze has always been about building atmosphere, something that Helen prove more than capable of doing here, but this is also where they run into some problems. Probably the most difficult thing about this album is the overall lack of distinction in the atmospheres they are creating. There are moments like the breezy upbeat 'Allison', the psych-tinged 'Motorcycle', and the frenzied and spaced-out 'Dying All the Time' where Harris' fatalist girl-group harmonies sound as if they are dissolving beneath the layers of buzzing guitars and warm organ fills that help to break up the monotony. 'Covered in Shade' and 'City Breathing' meanwhile make for some of the quietest and clearest numbers where the band eases off the loop pedals and strip away the white noise to reveal surprisingly straight-forward pop songs that allow the harmonies of Harris and Helen to shine through.

Regardless of those diversions, nothing here really stands out all that much and the songs bleed into one another in an almost seamless way, having the effect of a couple of percocets kicking in. That's fine for when you're wanting something to blissfully zone out to, but, taken as a whole, it can be a little disorienting. Helen have turned out an otherwise pleasing debut, and it's nice to hear Harris pushing her otherwise ghostly music into lusher and sunnier places, but it doesn't prevent The Original Faces from feeling a little underdeveloped and like a missed opportunity by the band to take the kind of music they are making in more interesting directions.

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