The Return of Alternative Rock: Ayanami’s ‘Heliotrope’ Reviewed

Ayanami’s Heliotrope swims in its influences. You can hear it clearly in the opening riff, but it becomes more subtle as the album progresses. The sounds of rock bands past are in these songs. Which is not to say this record is an amalgamation of tired alternative rock tropes. I can’t say for sure the music the record invoked for me was invoked intentionally. Still, it’s hard not to hear a 1990s afterglow on these ten tracks. We tend to learn so much from cultural osmosis, we sometimes never know where we’ve picked up a turn of phrase or how. The same, I would think, happens in songwriting.

The album opener “Crash and Burn” kicks off with a lick reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Frail & Bedazzled.” In a perfect introduction to the record, those first seconds of phased guitar tell you everything you need to know about the record. This is a band playing rock with a psychedelic twinge, with prog rock undertones in a post-grunge suit. You get shades of Soundgarden, Jimmy Eat World, and even Butch Walker in his early days.

I find the Smashing Pumpkins comparison most apt, because their music was built from similar parts. Ayanami rip into their guitars when they want to, but Heliotrope only flirts with metal; it never gets swallowed up the way some of Billy Corgan’s angstier tracks did. Also like the Pumpkins, Ayanami allow their sound to quiet. Acoustic guitars mingle with a gorgeous string arrangement on “Green,” adding emotional depth.

The closer, a pretty little ditty entitled “Plastic,” almost feels out of place on the album. Less bitter than sweet, “Plastic” provides a closing volta to an album full of charged guitars. It’s a song you could imagine teenagers making out to—which is meant as a compliment. Every band needs a make out anthem.

Because of this, Heliotrope at times can feel a little fragmented. The up-tempo numbers rock and rock hard, which sometimes puts them at odds with the quieter pieces. A few of these tracks don’t resonate emotionally, but you can tell the band is at least trying to connect. Good news is: Where the lyrics fall flat, the arrangements carry the songs forward.

The musicianship on this album is solid. It shines on a track like “Panic (We Are Hanging Here)” where the band builds palpable tension during the bridge, constructing an aggressive roar on the back of the rumbling low end. It’s also where singer Jason Gallagher drops his usual nasally delivery in favor of something grittier, something you might hear from Kyuss’ John Garcia. Ultimately, even if this record is a little green, it’s still pretty tight.

Key tracks: “Crash and Burn” “Panic (We are Hanging in There)”

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