Though many might know him from his stint as Mac DeMarco’s guitarist, Peter Sagar also creates his own music as Homeshake. Over the past seven years, he’s branched out on three albums from lo-fi indie pop to explore realms of alt-R&B and bedroom synth-pop. Sagar’s nonconformist tendencies come to a head on his fourth outing. Incorporating ambient music and electronic soul, along with thematic elements inspired by Japanese surrealist author Haruki Murakami, Helium carves out Homeshake’s very own niche.
Helium‘s singles establish Sagar’s artistic progression. The staccato synth bass line on “Like Mariah” breaks new ground, as does the vaguely emo-trap flow of “All Night Long.” The bouncy funk and tuneful brass of “Just Like My” capitalizes on Homeshake’s propensity for groove, which bleeds over on the evolving drum machine patterns on “Nothing Could Be Better.” This romantic lo-fi soul number makes up for its simple chords with compelling rhythm, along with charming lyrics and sticky hooks.
Ironically, Sagar’s choice to push the limits has a more bare-bones result, relying heavily on sonic nuance and haunting melody. “Heartburn,” the second of five interludes, barely breaks half a minute. Though minimalist in nature, these instrumental cuts add palpable conceptual depth to the record. Opener “Early” and closer “Couch Cushion” bookend the album with dreary synth notes and a field recording with birds chirping, easing in and out of Sagar’s musical world.
A foundation of oceanic static recurs in these fleeting asides, contrasting with the more stark production of the full-fledged songs with drifting, non-rhythmic structure. Even so, the piano and guitar duet on “Trudi And Lou” has palpable musicality, as does the synthetic bell choir and dialogic vocal samples on “Salu Says Hi.” Sagar inventively uses his expanded sound to strengthen the album’s atmospheric impact.
The drum samples fluctuating in each song keep each beat fresh and compelling, though not particularly complicated. The toned snare hits and hissing hi-hats of “Anything At All” allow Sagar’s guitar to take the lead. His comfort playing his instrument of choice is evidenced by the cut’s developed chord progression and rhythmic variation. “Find us something else to do/ Anything just me and you,” he pleads for a connection beyond cell phones and social media.
This subject matter carries over onto “Other Than,” which ruminates on dulling effect of a formulaic life. The song combines modulated synth tones, harmonic bass and shimmering guitar chords as Sagar makes use of his full range, from forlorn verses to angelic falsetto choruses. Helium manages to cover quite a lot of ground conceptually and musically.
Similar to Murakami’s literary work, Sagar uses his unique sonics to explore relatable ideas from an otherworldly perspective. The nebulous motif of “Another Thing”—“Another thing will never come true”—isn’t exactly clarified by its whimsical verses. But when the meaning gets unclear, the song’s drums tastefully follow the keyboard’s rhythm as two pitched percussive hits drive soft synth chords to speedy arpeggios.
Sagar does a great job giving each song a sound to call its own, never overindulging in electronic effects. In fact, the album’s secret track arguably presents the most musical diversity in its own right. From a suave combo of distant keyboard drones, a clicking backbeat and steadfast hi-hats, a John Mayer-esque guitar lick closes out the album with its strongest songwriting.
When taken on a song-by-song basis, Sagar’s music still sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom. But Helium gives that intimate, stripped-down approach a vital sense of wonder. Homeshake has made a lo-fi pop project that transcends its own limitations, becoming a multifaceted experience of malleable vibes and thought-provoking themes.