Montreal-based singer-songwriter Peter Sagar formed his solo project, Homeshake, after leaving Mac DeMarco’s live band in 2014. Sagar found himself fatigued and “at a creative dead-end” with guitar, in turn constructing luscious bedroom-pop and lo-fi R&B. The fourth album under the Homeshake moniker, Helium, out today, is a superb showcase of an artist rebuffing the usual pigeonholes in genres, textures, and soundscapes.
Helium is littered with short but sweet synth-laden interludes, filling out the album’s gossamer yet lonely feel. Soon after completing his 2017 album, Fresh Air, Sagar began writing Helium – also in the midst of “binge-reading” Haruki Murakami’s work. Murakami’s wit and characterization, particularly examinations of characters who don’t quite belong in the world they’re in, is a clear, massive inspiration for Sagar. Throughout Helium, Sagar’s voice flutters over cloudy, sometimes playful instrumentation. He was “obsessive about details” while recording Helium, as well as being in “a much clearer mental state.” This doesn’t impede the album’s unmoored disposition, though.
Devastating album highlight, “Just Like My,” captures Sagar somewhat detached from present reality, due to an uncompromising sensation of solitude. Deceptively groovy and airy, Sagar reveals, “it’s been a few days now, since I left the house” and admits, “I can’t remember any damn thing.” The song remains oddly comforting, even while it explores the feeling of mounting isolation. Sagar winds up succumbing to his imagination in “Like Mariah.” A Seinfeld-esque bass line (trust me, you’ll hear it) directs the entire track, employing further deception of the audience with a song so unbelievably catchy. “Like Mariah” is the one track where Sagar exhibits a sublime, stunning side to his vocal range. He pays humble homage to one of his biggest idols in “Like Mariah,” not only in title, but also in the sensational use of falsetto. Sagar propels his delicate vocal range to new heights, displaying newfound confidence and indisputable charm.
Slinky, elastic, “Nothing Could Be Better” is the lone love song on Helium. Remaining light and dreamy, Sagar declares that the minimalist dance tune follows the attitudes of an individual heading to a social function, which “you gotta ditch and hang out with your sweetie instead, because love is beautiful.” His vocals are higher than ever, the percussion is sharp, and Sagar persuasively guarantees us all that we’re less alone. That disoriented, isolated mood is all over Helium. “Anything At All” confronts our increasingly dependent relationship with technology, as Sagar plainly expresses, “everyone I know lives in my cell phone / no matter where I go, moving a lost soul.” He begs to “find us something else to do” – all the while lamenting in his solitude. Loneliness is Helium’s key concept, which resonates with all of us. It’s Sagar’s acknowledgment of such a universal theme that transforms Helium into a mightier album than what meets the eye.
I’ll be honest; it took me a little while to get into Helium. After several listens, I became engrossed in Sagar’s world. Following a dive into his lyricism, I grew further enamored. Helium’s gauzy atmosphere coupled with Sagar’s dreary lyrics is a stroke of genius. It’s lovely and undoubtedly strong, but there’s just something missing. Another song or two in the vein of “Like Mariah,” with its funky undertones and terrific falsetto, would be so welcome here. There’s a reason why the song is such a standout.
Helium is remarkably lovely throughout. But, it’s possibly too much so. An upbeat, somewhat hopeful track wouldn’t have been out of place. The album retains its light soundscapes during the entire album, emboldening its cohesive feel. There’s no doubting that Helium is enchanting. Perhaps it’s too consistent – to my ears, anyway. Sagar’s vocal melodies and wistful instrumentation slowly but surely tend to merge. I craved slightly more by the end of the album. While a number of tracks blended for me, personally, Sagar’s dedication in constructing equally devastating and starry-eyed tracks is to be applauded.
Peter Sagar has transformed himself into a prolific musician in a short time. He’s sufficiently carved out his name, separate from his reputation and position alongside Mac DeMarco. With Helium, Sagar shaped an album steeped in loneliness. Helium’s instrumentation fixes itself succinctly inside the dream-pop realm, pieced together with Sagar’s vulnerable vocal trembles. Incredibly consistent and exceedingly bare in emotion, Helium is a compelling album by a powerful artist, oozing in steady self-assurance.