Terrorbird

Helios

Helios

Veriditas

(Ghostly International)

Helios

Yume

(Unseen Music) CMJ

On respective edges of America — Oregon and Maine — Keith Kenniff records quiet music at night. “When things are calmer,” he says. “My mind is less distracted when I know that everything is dark outside.” For over a decade, such has been the mode — nocturnal, unrushed, using the same mini-cassette recorder, "a lovely little imperfect way to treat sounds" — for one of the country’s most understated composers. Kenniff has housed dozens of ambient releases under the name Helios since 2004, alongside post-classical output as Goldmund, shoegaze pop with his wife Hollie as Mint Julep, and commissions for film and television. It is a reliably transportive body of work that's earned Kenniff a cult following, and a genuine modesty that’s kept him on the fringes, right where he prefers, in the dark.

Raised in rural Pennsylvania, Kenniff began playing music at age 10 and studied percussion at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, releasing the first Helios album while still in school. “At first there was no intention of actually putting anything out,” says Kenniff. “Helios was just a way for me to experiment with making music without having to get in a band — I could just do it on my own whenever I wanted.” The recording project remains his most personal and self-contained creative outlet. “When I sit down to write, I get lost and I like being in that headspace, separated from myself.”

After graduating, Kenniff immersed himself in a run of Helios albums, releasing nearly one per year through 2012. With critically-acclaimed 2006 collection Eingya, released on Type Records and Kenniff's own Unseen, he established a cinematic sonic vocabulary using found sounds and post-rock signifiers. Ambling guitar and percussion underscored processed piano notes and field recordings. Kenniff refined the language across 2007's Ayres and 2008's Caesura. In 2009, he collected previously unreleased B-sides for the album Unleft, and performed at Seattle's Decibel Festival. His set was professionally recorded and re-mastered for 2010's Live At The Triple Door.

In 2012, Kenniff shared a free, digital-only collection called Moiety, which marked a notable shift in pace, both in output and style. Slower, more meditative than past work, Moiety honed in on Kenniff's proclivity as an ambient producer. He then found a middle ground in 2015 with Yume(the Japanese word for "dream"), feathering luminous guitar lines and elegant piano phrasings atop downtempo rhythms and lo-fi electronics and beatwork. The following year, Kenniff released Remembrance alongside a heartfelt note looking back on the past decade. The collection spiritually reconnects with 2006’s Eingya, embracing flourishes of IDM melancholia.

In 2018, Kenniff signed to Ghostly International. His first release with the label, Veriditas, finds its name and inspiration from twelfth-century philosopher Hildegard von Bingen's notion of "the greening power of the divine." Closest in tone to Moiety, the LP introduces vastly new, unusual shapes and landscapes to the Helios catalog. Whereas past songs have followed traditional structures — discernable bell curves with beginnings, arcs, and ends — the focus on Veriditas is texture and harmony. In a way, the album parallels the path of the Helios project to date: patient, immense, and wondrous without ostentation