Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
On "A Guide To The Outdoors," the very first song on Chris Otepka's latest record as The Heligoats, in the project/band/idea's 10th year, he plays a sort of out-of-breath, rushing current of a guitar, pleading with someone named Amy. She's found him in the woods and there's something romantic about the notion of a "wild man" being found out in the middle of nothing, amongst the trees and being more refined and cultured, smarter and happier than anyone with a big house, with a "good" job and with everything that everyone else is constantly and futilely fighting for as if there were no other purposes out there to strive for. It is a position that it seems like Otepka wouldn't mind finding himself in - one where people are remote and the greatest task that needs tackling in a day is trying to get to the end of a book so that another one that's been burning a hole in the nightstand can be started. It's not the dream of a normal guy, but one of a man who's had his clock rung by all of the silliness of the civilized rat race of a world in which there is no accomplishment to be talked about if it doesn't involve some sort of power capture or the acquisition of something that could be listed as a tangible asset. As much as this isolation booth would likely separate the long-time suburban Chicagoan-turned Washington state resident from his greatest source of entertainment and curiosity - society at-large, that squirrely, unable to figure out public - Otepka is a man capable of intricate and painstakingly considered thoughts that need little ignition besides some sustained time along and he'd be getting more than enough of that. He sings on "A Guide To The Outdoors," "I am one with the ruse," and it's an apt personal examination, getting at the crux of how he analyzes and observes all that goes on around him. It's a direct association with all of the slippery and startlingly unstable parts of nature in all of its glory and tangential irreverence. It might all just be one snide and smug trick, an experiment to test the boundaries of patience, willpower and resolve. But who's orchestrating the trick? It might be as interesting to Otepka and the songs that the gangly, charming and intellectual young man writes for Heligoats as are the vast and always changing details of the tricks and turns. Even with practice, it seems, there's no escaping the many trapdoors that are littered through his songs' made up lives. There are plenty of variations and there are plenty of incidental anomalies that create the kind of amusing toil and aggravation that keeps Otepka's mind nimbly fumbling with any sort of solidarity. Heligoats songs are filled with the kind of passion that one associates with the many different ways that confusion and disappointment can be dislodged and scrambled into something that could just as easily be mirth - because who can keep track of it all? It's for the better that the cheap thrills and the many different ways that we find of getting us through these irregular times are eccentric and overwrought with thought and cast out with a belief in their success. Otepka tackles the fakery and the illusions of normalcy with humor and an unresolved stance right in the middle of it. It's as if he'd like to flee from all of the socially awkward aspects of his days - go off and live in the woods, next to the crashing waves and the aching sounds of a dock moored in a fresh water lake, right in the middle of a grey-skied afternoon, where the waters are choppy and full of disturbed fish. But still, he wants to remain and see if he can figure it out, as complicated and humbling as it can tend to be, because as he sings on his new album's title track -- which assumes some kind of a turnaround, a hopefulness - he's finally "burning daylight with a purpose../Turning virtues into habits, into consciousness/And then I said goodnight for real for once and it sounded just like this."
The Heligoats Official Site