Ever since stumbling upon them more or less by accident back in 2011 via their NPR Tiny Desk Concert, I've been pretty much in love with The Heligoats. There's a hell of a lot to love about The Heligoats but perhaps the number one reason is singer/songwriter Chris Otepka who manages to channel his spirit of curiosity into a style of lyricism that's built brick by brick, molecule by molecule without draining any of the magic out of it. That and the man has a knack for going on unexpected narrative that are equal parts impressively creative and clever. Take The Heligoats' most recently released album Back to the Lake, surprisingly enough the band's first concept record, which details a camping trip that goes increasingly wrong.
While the album is full of Otepka's natural, occasionally heightened realism, Otepka let's himself get really weird to often humorous results. But in between tales of mundane disappointments - crappy camp food, running out of said crappy camp food, getting lost and missing domestic luxuries, Otepka along with many returning members from previous record Back to the Ache manage to create songs that transcend the concept.
Take "Little Gain", a short little ditty that can neatly exist outside of the album's increasingly harrowing misadventures. One of my favorite things about Otepka has been in his rather beautiful emotionally resonant and sort of universally applicable turns of phrase. "I can't find the time, it's gotta be somewhere" he croons it's as delightfully witty as Goodness Gracious' "Water Towers On Fire". It's a song that chooses heart over wit however as Otepka essentially gives himself a musical pep talk. It has a more universal appeal than some of Back to the Lake's other offerings and yet, it still fits in pretty well. Especially after the sort of buried relationship drama in "Camping Trip from Hell" and "Snakes, Jellyfish, Sandcastles" and before the Freudian dream epic of "Two Cycle Engine". It's delicate but triumphant with just little bit of bite that hints that things don't quite resolve the way you expect. It's another example of how effective of a songwriter Otepka can be - eschewing the verbose for the visceral.
The Heligoats' Back to the Lake is out now on Greyday Records. You can buy the album through the band's Bandcamp.