Brandon Summers was looking for some light.
During the making of Negotiations, his 2012 album as half of the Portland, Oregon-area duo The Helio Sequence, he had essentially surrendered to darkness. It was the figurative and often literal setting that permeated the recording sessions as well as the resulting music. So when time came for Summers and bandmate Benjamin Weikel to cut a follow-up, a work that would be titled simply The Helio Sequence, the duo chose a setting and a sound that was altogether brighter.
"The new record was largely a reaction to how we approached Negotiations," Summers said by phone last week ahead of Saturday's performance by The Helio Sequence at the Singletary Center for the Arts. "That album (Negotiations) was a very long, very introspective process that was full of self-analysis on many levels — on personal ones, on ways the lyrics shaped the whole tone of the music, lots of things.
"We recorded Negotiations mostly at night, too. So, like any record, it was a reflection. For the new record, we would go into the studio on these beautiful sunny mornings. Also, instead of spending a year-and-a-half working on a record, like we did with Negotiations, we wanted to see what it would be like to make a record in one month. So instead of feeling brained after it was over with, we felt more energized.
Never miss a local story.
"I feel there are tons of open doors for us now. For a band that's been around for 19 years, this feels like a fresh start."
The Helio Sequence emerged out of a Northeastern music scene that was very different than the one that thrives within the Portland region today. Summers and Weikel, though, have remained largely consistent in their music and motives, designing pop soundscapes both danceable and detached as a duo. Summers serves as the guitarist and vocalist with Weikel handling percussion and keyboards. Various sequencing and electronic effects then augment the music, especially onstage. What emerges is a pop sound that often seems orchestral but is nonetheless the product of a duo.
"When we came up as a band, we were seen as a new thing," Summers said. "At the time, it was mostly grunge and post grunge coming out of Seattle, but that extended to Portland, too. But here we were, these upstarts playing this strange electronic music with sequencers."
"Some welcomed us with opens arms. Others threw batteries."
The 10 songs that make up The Helio Sequence (the duo's sixth album, although its discography also includes several EP discs and singles) were whittled down from a completed set of 26. Perhaps more than any of their other full-length albums, the resulting music weaves together like a suite, from the introductory hum, chiming guitar ambience and militaristic beat of the opening Battle Lines to the shimmering finale of Never Going Back, where vocals, guitars and percussion mesh into a lush, hushed whole.
The songs' cordial warmth and the often contemplative feel surrounding them represent the latest chapter in the continually evolving musical alliance Summers and Weikel have created.
"It's always changing," Summers said. "Sure, there are times we butt heads. But there are great strengths, too. At the end of the day, though, the band philosophy is that both of us have to be completely into a song to release it. Now, the flip side of that is we have a ton of unreleased stuff. There are songs where we might not like the lyrics or weren't happy with a drum solo. But since there are just two of us, no one gets overlooked.
"We've invested our entire lives in this band. We've been doing it since we were in our teens. We're family."