The Helio Sequence with Kings of Leon and the Secret Machines at Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Wednesday (August 3), all ages. $24.50. 416-870-8000.
After two albums spent bombarding listeners with the fuzzy drone of their psychedelic space rock, the Helio Sequence fell back to Earth.
They took one look at how far they'd travelled and abandoned the warped bliss of their deep-space hiss in favour of a poppier sensibility. Although enveloping melodies dominated 2000's Com Plex and 2001's Young Effectuals (both on the Cavity Search label), when it came time to record Love And Distance, their 2004 debut for Sub Pop, the Helios realized a crucial detail had been overlooked.
Buried in the fuzzy density of their songs, the Helio Sequence's lyrics had become less the conductor of their magical mystery tour than luggage lost in the shuffle.
"I feel a lot of good stuff is lost in the first two records because of that aesthetic," says guitarist/vocalist Brandon Summers, who's hanging out at home in Portland, Oregon. "People kept focusing on the aesthetic more than the message."
Unwilling to leave listeners drowning in the deep end of the ambiguity pool, Summers and keyboardist/drummer Benjamin Weikel yanked the vocals to the forefront. They threw in some harmonica, a dash of summertime playfulness and wound up with Love And Distance.
Beyond the technical details, there's a lot more at work here - namely, the two men's attempts to close the gap between them and the ones they love through music.
"I spent two years away from my wife while she was in Prague," Summers explains. "At the same time, Benjamin's girlfriend went to Paris.
"When you're alone, you have a lot of time to think about where you're going and who you are."
He points to the songs S.O.S. and Blood Bleeds as obvious manifestations of their lonely hearts sending melancholy distress signals across the ocean.
It's a shift from the theme of suburban angst that dominated their songwriting on previous albums, particularly Young Effectuals, says Summers.
"Growing up in the suburbs is a profound experience. Not only is there a physical divide between you and the city, but there's a gigantic psychological divide and handicap that kids have growing up out there.
"I felt starved, intellectually and culturally. All my life I was looking forward to getting out of the suburbs."
He escaped into the sullen music of Nirvana, who inspired him to play guitar and form the band with Weikel. Later, the two worked in a Portland music store by day and practised there at night.
That music store is where Helio Sequence first rocketed to the psychedelic galaxies of their first two albums. Their living rooms doubled as recording studios where rock and electronica collided, fuzzy distortion was king and My Bloody Valentine's ethereal music served as a touchstone.
That's all in the past, though. When Summers and I talk, it's a week before they head out on a tour that finds them at the clichéd crossroads of a band trying to push themselves past fan expectations. Call it the Black Eyed Peas zone - the place where dedicated followers often fall off and new travellers jump on.
At the end of our chat, Summers is adamant about one thing: no band wants to get stuck in a single groove.
"That thirst, that hunger, the search for more" is what drives the Helio Sequence, says Summers. "I don't think that search ever ends. I'd hope you never come to the point where you go, 'I've found it!' and that's all."