Though upon first listen it’s evident that a whole host of influences came together to create the artist known as John Helix, the San Diego-based singer/songwriter himself uses Weltschmerz — a German word literally translated as “world sorrow,” or, in this case, a sense of romantic ennui. On Chronic Happiness, Helix’s second album recorded in his “man cave” studio, he explores the theme from the perspective of a sociological philosopher. What does it take to achieve happiness in today’s socially connected world? How many anti-depressants to successfully pull us out of everyday misery?
Overarching these heady elements is, of course, the music. Helix makes no secret that Elliot Smith is the star of his influence, immediately evident on the title track, with its echoing, reverb-laden instruments and pleading vocal. Throughout the album, the tracks fluctuate from the truly beautiful (“Up This Time”) to lush (“Psychotropic Dreams”) to lumbering (“Conceptual Whistling”). Chronic Happiness never veers too far into the rock ‘n’ roll arena, but that doesn’t seem to be Helix’s style. Instead, he keeps it breezy and easy, and crafts an overall listenable record.
If there’s one roadblock that stands in Helix’s way, it might be his projected lack of accessibility. A glance down the track listing (and even a read through his self-penned Facebook bio) reveals a laundry list of triple-word-score lingo. What the heck is “eschatology,” anyway? In mine eyes, it doesn’t take much effort to doctor up your vocab with a thesaurus or dictionary; being clever using laymen’s terms is far more challenging and effective. For some, the pretension might be an immediate turn-off.
It’s a relief, then, that Helix’s lead single is called “I Don’t Speak Los Angelese.” Okay, funny and suggests a higher concept. A-plus. The song itself is a Beatles-esque ditty (think “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” In fact, the whole album evokes more of a sense of Abbey Road than Rubber Soul) and is possibly the most listenable track of them all, but could probably lose the ending devolution and be a-OK. But, hey, it’s a sophomore record, will definitely earn a second spin on my turntable (or stream on my computer, as it were) and sets the stage for more big things to come from John Helix.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/176653626″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]