Keith Kenniff, also known as Goldmund and one half of Mint Julep, is Helios. Over the last few years, his musical outpourings have become a pretty constant part of my life. It all started with ‘Eingya‘, released back in 2006, which ended up being my local record shop’s album of the year. As I so often did, I found myself purchasing a copy of an album based on the recommendation of that particular shop. The first play didn’t dazzle me. I sat back, put my feet up and waited for my ears to be caressed in an almost obscene fashion. As it happened, the CD whirred to an end and I was left thinking that its contents were, much as I hate to admit it now, ‘quite nice’. It hadn’t really clicked with me and, while I could clearly understand that it was beautifully put together, I was quite sure why anybody would be passionate enough about it to rank it above all of the other records released that year. However, as is so often the case, it was the fifth or sixth listen that suddenly changed my entire appreciation of the record. Where once delicate soundscapes had blurred together and the album has passed me by, almost as if it were a solitary, though ‘quite nice’, track, individual melodies, layers of sound, precise instrumental touches all started to stand out and I was hooked.
There are those who would term ‘Eingya‘ as ‘post-rock’ but, as anyone who has ever endured an entire Mogwai album in one sitting will attest, that isn’t necessarily the most flattering label to be given. Others might describe it as ‘ambient’, which is certainly closer to the truth. Essentially the music is built around a core of delicate piano, gentle guitar and an assortment of electronic beats and noises, all adding up to something far more than the sum of its parts. It’s perfect music for the morning after a heavy night before, but it’s also perfect for a sunny afternoon spent doing bugger all. It’s a late night thinking album and it’s the ideal soundtrack to a cold winter drive. Once you have absorbed it, moved it beyond the hideous world of ‘background music’, its many ebbs and flows will continue to enthhrall and guide you in whichever context you choose to deploy it. As ‘Eingya’ plays right now, it is joyous, uplifting, ecstatic music but a few months ago it was the ideal tonic after dealing with brainfarting arseheads for several days on end.
But there’s more to Helios than that. ‘Ayres‘, a mini-album released a year after ‘Eingya’, added something that many listeners had no idea was even needed. Vocals. Though hardly a gung-ho showman and with almost palpable uncertainty, Kenniff himself deployed his delicate voice at various points on the album’s six tracks. Vocally he ended up somewhere between an even more chilled out Maps and plenty of the more laid-back Americana that is so often rather beguiling. Musically, it built on the strengths of ‘Eingya‘ and, here at least, it got almost as much time in the CD player as its predecessor. Last year’s ‘Caesura’ returned to the instrumental guise of Helios but added a more electronic focus. A more grand affair than ‘Eingya’, but no less charming, ‘Caesura’ was a more immediate listen but, as will all of Kenniff’s material, repeated listens have only served to further underline its quality.
Alongside all of this has been his work as Goldmund. It must be said, if after hearing Helios you find the music too minimalist then his work under this moniker is probably not for you. Ethereal piano music that’s almost as much about the spaces between the notes as what is there in the first place (sounds wanky, I know, but wait till you’ve heard it,) both Goldmund albums are delicate pieces that command and absolutely require your full attention. A casual listen and you’ll think that it’s pretty inconsequential stuff that’s pleasant and inoffensive but put ‘Corduroy Road’, the first Goldmund album, on late at night, sit by the speakers and see how you feel about it then. If by this point you’ve become as obsessed with Keith Kenniff’s work, then proceed to ‘The Malady Of Elegance‘, his second Goldmund album and his other release from 2008. Perhaps the most ambient and sparse of all of his work, it’s certainly not the place to start.
Quite apart from the music itself being something a little different which makes rather impressive use of ever-developing technology, Helios’ position in the FUTUREMUSIC canon is further cemented by his nice line in delicately designed, often unique CD-R releases, which is where Mint Julep comes into view. Essentially a collaborative piece by Keith and his wife, Hollie,the music is a slightly more conventional ‘band’ sound, still layered with assorted ambient electronica, but with a slightly chuggy, shoegazy feel. All rather charming, but not quite in the league of his other recordings. The album, ‘Songs About Snow’, is only available as a CD-R from Keith’s own webshop, along with two wonderful additional Helios records. Firstly, ‘Live At The Triple Door’ is, as you might expect, a live album but perhaps more essential is ‘Unreleased Vol. 1’, comprising assorted hitherto unreleased Helios material that does not disappoint. All quite a lot to take in, I know, but you should fall as head over hells as I do I’d like you to be informed and for Keith to make a few more quid. Right then, get to work, test on Monday.
As a footnote to this piece, should you have worked through all the Spotify links and decided that it was time to add some of this wonderful stuff to your collection, some notable lovelies from Kenniff’s assorted back catalogue are currently going rather cheap over at the splendid, and soon to mentioned in more detail as part of FUTUREMUSIC, Boomkat. (Cheap ‘Eingya‘ Cheap ‘Caesura‘ Cheap ‘The Malady Of Elegance’) Plus, for whoever reacts quickest, Norman Records currently have a second-hand copy of the Goldmund debut, ‘Corduroy Road’, for £7.99.