REVIEW: Helios - Yume

Kelly Kirwan

Chances are, you’ve heard Keith Kenniff’s music before.

The composer has filled the spaces of pop culture (ironically so) with his delicate, classically-infused melodies that have accompanied ads for big-name brands like Toyota, Apple, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google, just to name a few. The scores we could recognize, but the musician himself is more elusive.

Keniff has navigated this industry with a series of aliases at the ready; the one he decides to wear depends on the musical component being highlighted that day. Goldmund? That would be the representative of post-classical piano. Mint Julep? The introspective alt-rock and electronica made by he and his wife, Hollie.

Then, of course, there’s Helios, which blends ambient, acoustic, classical and electronic into soft, dynamic pieces like those featured on the latest EP, Yume. The Japanese word for “dream,” Yume was self-released by Kenniff under his label Unseen with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. By circumventing all the industry middlemen, we’re left with tracks that feel unfiltered and intimate—Yume was a four-year passion project for Kenniff, whose open letter to fans succinctly ended with “music is my life, and I love it.”

We can tell. The success of his crowdfunding leaves us with reflective, airy vignettes that are both relaxing and uplifting—like the haze in which you hover after waking, when you’re not quite lucid, and you can stretch the feeling because you have nowhere to be that day. It’s a really good feeling.

Previously, Kenniff has thrown the word “mangled” around when it comes to his own artistic endeavors. He’ll take sounds from everyday life and layer them with rhythm upon rhythm—the slam of a car door or odd creak become the track’s percussion (at times sampled from years earlier), and we’re none the wiser. It’s a personal touch, collecting sounds we’d otherwise throw away as white noise, and threading them into his music. Though with a degree in percussion from Berklee College of Music, it makes sense that Kenniff’s ear could find music anywhere.

The unique quality of Yume is Kenniff’s choice to pair this ambience with live recordings. Drums, a stray tambourine, and cameos from the cellist Amos Chochran and viola player Ben Davis all contribute to the lo-fi quality of the EP.  Tracks like "Sonora Lac" have this lulling, effervescent quality, likes waves crashing on the shoreline—and the bowed instrument interlude at the end will give you that optimistic, bittersweet swell in your chest. Other highlights include the slightly static, compelling beat, "It Was Warmer Then," and "Pearls," a track that’s already garnered a few online features in the recent Helios buzz.

Yume, as it’s title suggests, is a nonlinear, dream-like sequence of songs which flow effortlessly from one into the other. It’s a low-key soundtrack for those days when you’re feeling meditative, or perhaps just curious as to the inner-workings of Kenniff’s mind. It's telling that this latest EP was envisioned, written, and distributed by none other Kenniff himself, leaving us with an unexpected level of transparency from the composer with three musical personas.