Swedish-born but Berlin-based, The Ghost of Helags are a slightly awkward entity to place alongside contemporaries. The most obvious bands to bundle them in with are the likes of Chromatics, yet there are glaring distinctions in both mood and sound that make that particular comparison seem quite clumsy.
They clearly love David Lynch. But rather than evoking images of hollow-body guitars in the Bang Bang Bar, We Came From The Stars owes more to an eclectic mix of Scandinavian pop married to soundscapes in the vein of Krautrock, techno, and Bowie’s Berlin period. Indeed, the thing that separates The Ghost of Helags from their aforementioned contemporaries is the stark contrast between their sad songs and their more upbeat efforts. Where you might expect compressed, subtle drum sounds, the patterns can be abrasive.
Somehow, this journey of sonic differentiation manages to avoid throwing up a disjointed collection of songs, and instead produces a particularly personal- sounding theme to an epic journey.
Teresa Woischiski and John Alexander Ericson have pulled together eleven new tracks and a re-working of ‘Under My Skin’ (from their 2017 EP Shibuya) into an album with no real right to sound like one continuous piece that, somehow, can be played from start to finish with utter coherence.
Opener ‘Chemistry’ pitches Woischiski’s airy vocals over a train-like rhythmic bumble of synths, which evoke a strange mixture of loneliness and dancing around handbags. Recent single ‘Mary’ reflects its biographical narrative with a constantly shifting set of drum patterns. These never quite resolve into the banging four-to-the-floor groove they threaten, while the vocals manage to convey both epic stanzas and the cadence of a nursery rhyme.
This stylistic conflict is also evident on ‘Night Summer Waiting’, where the repetitive backing vocals push forward the top line harmony. An impressively dynamic breakdown and shifting mood in the final minute showcase the duo’s ability to blindside the listener.
Other highlights include album centrepiece ‘Anthem (We Came From The Stars)’ which veers from Aphex Twin-influenced dirty synths to wistful sci-fi dreaming, and the final track, ‘Autobahn Lullaby’. The latter neatly caps off the vibe of the record, with a spooky mix of synth pads and vocal harmonies over twanging bass notes. It’s more lullaby than German motorway.
Taken as a whole, the album is more M83 than Mulholland Drive (which is no bad thing), yet the undulations of sadness and wonder throughout the record will invite repeated listening.