The Eagles had their Frey, Henley and Walsh. Helicopter's quartet of songwriter
Country music has its share of hard rock crossovers. Seventies bands, like The Eagles, saw much success fusing hard rock and country. More recent acts like The Avett Brothers take the country sound to another level mixing it with frenetic rock rhythms, concocting a punkish aesthetic. Los Angeles, CA band Helicopter fulfills the same prophecy as The Eagles and The Avett Brothers, while throwing in some pop and reggae. It might come off as an ill attempt to be everything to everyone if they weren’t so damn good at it. On their 2009 debut album, Flight Risk, the quintet, hailing from places as far away as the Philippines (guitarist/vocalist Bruce Makabenta) and New Zealand (co-founder, drummer, songwriter, engineer and producer, Matthew Moore), demonstrate their expansive appetite for Southern-style classic rock, carefully crafted guitar-driven pop, reggae, and alt-country.
The explosive ear-opener and album's namesake, "Flight Risk," could certainly be a play on the band's potential to be searched at airports, given the wide range of backgrounds of each band member. The thunderous claps of drums and grouty vocals of Stefano Capobianco simultaneously channel Lenny Kravitz during his “Are You Gonna Go My Way” period and a softer, yet equally cool, Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame. Each successive song introduces a new element to the Helicopter sound. Johnny Kempt takes the helm on the second track, "When We Get Together," offering up a refreshing southern rock twang, while retaining those swilling raw guitar licks and badgering drum booms. If this track were around for airplay when “Easy Rider” was made, this song would have been perfect for those long motorcycle-rides down Route 66.
The album quickly eases off the beautiful raucous of hard rock into a bevy of country and pop love songs. This could indeed be the one "risk" of Flight Risk. Listeners could be confounded by the jolt of ballads, or, equally impressed by the band’s versatility. The latter holds up more here in this case, since they tend not to overdo anything they perform. The musicianship and detailed production work on each track shows making Flight Risk a risk worth taking. There is just the right amount of attitude with the Joe Cocker-esque growls of "Broken." Then there is the square love song, "Smile," with its bright hooks and fearless acoustic rhythms. The sonically explorative nature of "Strangers" gives way to a dark intrigue unseen anywhere else on Flight Risk. It is these unexpected and complex moments on the record that make this album interesting and worth listening to many times over.
Helicopter's armada of musical styles is a result of their diverse backgrounds. Four of the five band members that write the songs, each have their own distinct lyrical voice. The Eagles had their Frey, Henley and Walsh. Helicopter's quartet of songwriters unravels a brilliant musical collage of country, hard rock, reggae and pop. Helicopter’s Flight Risk would fit well on the record shelf of fans that love Eric Clapton, The Avett Brothers and The Allman Brothers.
Review by Michael Morgan