Back in December, I shared the music video for “Palomino,” the first single from Heligoland’s latest album, This Quiet Fire. The album dropped this week, but the Paris-based duo was kind enough to send me an early copy, which I’ve listened to on a fairly regular basis over the last few weeks.
Put simply, if you’ve ever found yourself pining for the “classic” 4AD sound, then This Quiet Fire is absolutely worth checking out.
The obvious and easy point of comparison is Cocteau Twins. For starters, This Quiet Fire was produced by Robin Guthrie, who also contributed drums, bass, and keyboards to its ten songs, and his production touches and techniques are unmistakable. Furthermore, Heligoland employs the tried and true “female vocals and ethereal soundscapes” aesthetic that so typified 4AD releases of that era — and they do so quite admirably by their predecessors.
However, vocalist/guitarist Karen Vogt rarely employs the sort of wide-eyed glossolalia that one associates with the Cocteaus. Her voice certainly is capable of soaring and shivering in a Liz Fraser-esque manner (e.g., “Hope,” “Always”), but she usually opts for a slower and more deliberate style, carefully drawing out and wringing each word with soulful vibrato.
This approach can occasionally feel a bit heavy when contrasted with the band’s languid, effortless soundscapes. However, Vogt’s slower vocal pacing is intrinsic to the album’s otherworldly quality, as if she — and by extension, the listener — is dreamily sleepwalking her way through each song. And on a song like the haunting piano-led ballad “Trinity,” her rich voice imbues such lyrics as “My inner world, a soft and gentle light/I’ll do anything to shield her from outside” with added poignancy.
The blend of Vogt’s voice with the duo’s slow-burning atmospherics, which are (barely) grounded by the slightest of beats, makes for a stately dance on songs like the aforementioned “Palomino,” “Throw Me to the Stars,” and especially on my favorite song on This Quiet Fire, “Hera.” Here, Vogt’s layered vocals are accompanied by Halou-esque beats, stark-yet-elegant piano notes, and guitars that move effortlessly between shimmering ambience and graceful runs.