True to form when an epic, sonically expansive recording like David Helpling’s IN is released, the promotional wordsmithing includes countless cool suggestions on how those two letters (I and N) relate to the visionary keyboardist, guitarist and composer’s 10 year writing and recording odyssey to create this 13 track double album. All of them naturally apply. Its an INFINITE soundscape of intricate (my word), alternately spacy/trippy and pulsating/rhythmic (my take) guitar, synth, percussion and guest vocal textures.
As it journeys from the lilting, intoxicating and easy, atmosphere rich and rhythmic piano driven “Waves Dream of Breaking” through the haunting, liquefying ambient guitar tinged “I Too Am Coming Home” (one of two tracks imbued with the sweeping, exotic chant and choral textures of Miriam Stockley), we’re truly inspired to stay awhile for some deeper listening that can prompt possibly life changing reflections and self-INTROSPECTION. Then, based on Helpling’s unique concept of musically exploring and discovering fresh wonder in the tiniest of places – i.e. a square inch of forest holding a world of vast color and exuberant life – the insightful press materials include the clever dual phrase from “the INFINITESIMAL to the INFINITE.”
If this plethora of terms with the two magic letters in them seem over the top as guiding descriptors of Helpling’s multi-faceted achievement, it’s with good reasons. IN is the most transcendent of aural pleasures filled with rollercoaster mood swings, effortlessly and purposefully darting from one passionate vista (the sweeping crunch groove driven “This Burning Sky,” featuring the ethereal exotica of Nidhi Bhatmuley’s urgent vocalizations) to another (the subtle and gentle yet melodically whimsical “Here All Along”). When wordsmiths are faced with musical narratives that create this kind of meaning and power, there are only so many words in the English language to represent them – and only so many ways to describe emotion that is truly, bottom line, beyond words. So we reach…and do our best.
Yet the one “in” word that has thus far, it seems, been overlooked is ultimately what makes this project stand out as unique in Helpling’s 25 year discography – which began with Between Green and Blue and a trilogy with fellow ambient music master (and Spotted Peccary Music labelmate) Jon Jenkins that includes Treasure, The Crossing and Found. It’s a simple word that carries a lot of weight as to what IN ultimately is – an INVITATION.
To use the music as a soundtrack to exploration of the universe in all its complexity and grandeur. To ponder those tiny, usually easy to overlook small patches of the earth’s natural beauty (usually forsaken because we’re focused on the big picture of what’s around us). To learn who we are, ponder perhaps why we were put on the planet at this specific time with senses seemingly designed to appreciate all those intricacies that Helpling’s music somehow manages to reflect or at least point to. And ultimately find direction in our lives so that our God/nature given gifts can benefit and uplift others, much as Helpling has done.
Using an array of instruments, high tech gadgets and sonic weaponry so vast that it requires a full page in the press materials (!), Helpling ultimately gives us more than a relaxing, thought provoking and soul-uplifting/transformative work like most ambient artists aim to do. For those willing to take a deep dive, he offers a musical roadmap, using track titles and melodic, harmonic rhythmic and atmospheric vibes, to help us make sense of our existence. Sometimes indeed, we should remain “Still as Stone.” Perhaps, and especially for those who believe in spiritual reincarnation, we’ve been “Here All Along.”
Life indeed can feel like it’s “Slipping Away” (a point emphasized by Stockley’s dramatic vocalizing), but we survive “The Cold Distance in Between” lives and our most profound human connections by accessing “The Bliss You’ve Always Carried” and “Following the Lines” until the mysteries and uncertainty give way to clarity and insight. With 13 tracks and almost 90 minutes of unfolding musical space to work with, there’s plenty more to work with, spiritually and emotionally – and it may take a few listens to IN to fully embrace the possibilities of the kind of entry Helpling is conveying. But the rewards – heavenly, otherworldly yet grounded in the magnificence of human experience and yes, truly beyond words.
It's so easy to get carried away on all this blissful surrealness that we can forget IN is also a product to be streamed, sold and otherwise consumed. It’s available in a broad choice of formats, including color vinyl double LP, 2x CD, 24-BIT Studio Master Download, standard MP3 (320KBPS) and 16-bit CD quality, 24-bit studio master.
There is also a COMPLETE LIMITED EDITION BUNDLE of the upcoming final product (due in June 2022) while supplies last. All options available on https://spottedpeccary.com/shop/in/ and https://davidhelpling.bandcamp.com/album/in