Jo and I have been waiting to reacquaint ourselves with London’s Hælos for over three years now. We first came across them by accident, arriving early for a TV On The Radio gig at the Roundhouse in August 2015. I found them a more enchanting proposition than the evening’s main act – they hadn’t even put an album out at that point. In 2016, an impressive if slightly one paced album, ‘Full Circle’ followed and, to be fair to the band, several gigs came with them. But we couldn’t get to any of them.
I sort of forgot about them for a bit then and then, a few months ago, some activity on their Insta feed and a new track, ‘Buried In The Sand’ arrived. This song seemed, if not a step up, then a definite change of gear. Just when I thought I was out… Anyway, tickets went on sale for last night’s hometown show at EartH to celebrate the release of album #2, ‘Any Random Kindness’. Despite Thursday being a football night for me, and therefore sacred, I told Jo I’d give up football if she got the tickets (that’s only half a heresy, right?).
Obviously, she got the tickets.
So, what of this band and how far have they travelled in the last three and a half years? They opened with ‘Kyoto’, the second song (I think) to emerge from ‘Any Random Kindness’ and a song I had initially not been too keen on. Having lived it for a while now, the chorus, sung by both Lotti Benardout and Arthur Delaney has dug a trench into my brain and, guys, it won’t leave,
“Cherry blossom cherry blossom
It’s the air that we breathe
How have we forgotten what it means to be
Cherry blossom cherry blossom
It’s the world that we leave
Here for what we want but do we know what we need”
Faced with an army of sedentary head nodders, we were all sat on the banked seating of the auditorium, Delaney drily noted that we could stand up if we wanted to, it wasn’t “against the rules”. As one, everyone rose to their feet and, pretty much, remained there for the rest of the gig. Which must have looked a lot better if you were looking out from the stage.
As the gig progressed, it was the ‘Full Circle’ tracks which really seemed to land, the newer tracks – with the exception of the excellent ‘End Of World Party’, getting lost in a soup of unfamiliarity, disinterested chatter and, at times, indistinct vocals. It’s becoming more and more apparent that, as the world’s attention span grows ever shorter, bands like Hælos will suffer love from treated as background music to someone’s evening rather than the actual focus of the evening. A point hammered home when Lotti Benardout dedicated the aching, beautiful, ‘Dust’ to her late father as people around us chatted away, oblivious.
Hearing Benardout speak in such a normal voice, I was struck by the contrast with the emotion, soul and, at times, hurt she is able to inject into her vocals. One of the draws of this band, for me, is the XXish interplay of that emotion with the more hushed tones of Delaney. I’d never considered it until I saw it written recently, but there is perhaps that, highest praise possible (from me anyway), comparison to be made with Massive Attack. They’re certainly in good company when it comes to people chatting throughout a gig anyway.
‘Full Circle’ saw the band take flight, almost verging into wig out territory as Delaney repeatedly exclaimed “these colours in my head!”, before everyone was commanded to dance, dance as if we were at a party listening to our favourite, most banging tune. I felt this was a dangerous instruction, but then I didn’t know ‘Buried In The Sand’ was about to drop. A subtly nagging groove, butterflies falling, wiped hard drives and crowns of wires all combine to create an uneasy euphoria augmented by a very New Order bassline and, to my ears, Depeche Mode keys. Naturally, I think this song is brilliant and it closed out the main set.
Our heroes returned to stage pretty quickly with ‘Oracle’, carried again by that beautiful voice. The conclusion of this song saw the band greeted with rapturous applause. It quickly became obvious that they were going to milk the applause for a bit, so the applause continued and the Hælos continued to milk it in a way that seemed to say “We know that you know what we’re doing; great isn’t it?” Yes, yes it was.
After that, things came full circle. Yes, the whole point of writing this review was to get that pun in there, with the first track on their debut album (the intro, I think, doesn’t count), ‘Pray’. By now, even the chatters around us had been caught up and were dancing, arms aloft as Lotti repeatedly implored us to “Pray, don’t fall down”. Okay, Lotti, we’ll try not to… The euphoric wave that builds through this song and that repetition felt absolutely the right note to end what had been a very successful evening on.
Pausing only to get a photo of themselves, with us, their adoring audience behind them, again, arms aloft in acclamation, they disappeared backstage. We shuffled off towards the London Overground, thinking that it won’t be too long before this band will be headlining much bigger arenas than EartH, perhaps even a return to the Roundhouse?
In fact, Hælos can be found at the Brixton Electric in October, it goes without saying, but they are well worth checking out.