You’d be forgiven if you heard the latest record from Portland band Help and
assumed it was inspired by a riot. The nervous breakdown of society has needed a
soundtrack, particularly in a city like ours where, if you watched the news you’d be
convinced that people drink their morning coffee with a side of Molotov. But 2053, the
full-length follow up to their 2019 eponymous EP is much more than that.
“The frustration of growing up religious and being fed a bunch of bullshit down
your throat is a big source of my frustration—the guilt I felt growing up, for doing things
that for everyone else seemed like it was okay and normal to do,” Ryan Neighbors says.
Neighbors is the three-piece band’s sole guitarist and lead vocalist—a ranty,
cathartic staccato that calls up the influence from his formative years listening to
mewithoutYou, but is more aptly described as being tapped into the vital chaos found in
Mike Muir’s tirades on Suicidal Tendencies records. Those personal themes of religion
and control are where the lyrical content begins for Help songs, then drummer-
collaborator Bim Ditson connects them to challenge wider systems of control.
“One node is the old-world type of shame as a tool of control, and centralization
of the church,” Ditson says. “The other node is want and desire as a tool of control and
consolidation—you know, capitalism. Ryan is coming from his background, and
processing it directly and saying, ‘here’s how it feels to be me’ and being vulnerable,
and then I’m coming at it and going, ‘me too,’ just for these totally different reasons.”
One does not need to look far to find signs of an impending apocalypse in any
part of the globalized world—rising rents, labor strikes, houselessness, mental unhealth,
and crumbling infrastructure are in the news daily—and leaders worldwide have
abandoned everyone who isn’t an LLC to follow the gleam of war. 2053 imagines a not-
too-distant future where civilization has declined into chaos. The opening track, “Ultra-
Violent Ones” nods to the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel and Stanley Kubrick film A
Clockwork Orange, in which the wealthy elite enjoy safe distance from those stuck in
the day-to-day violence of the collapsed remnants of society. Neighbors rants in the
If you really think you deserve to hoard all of the beautiful gifts of the universe
I just gotta ask you one question
It’s all ME ME ME WANT WANT WANT ME ME ME WANT WANT WANT
Well go ahead and take it
Take my money, take my dignity
Just come back around one more time and put my outta my god damn misery
2053 is a heavy record. But moments of beauty found their way onto the recordings as well. The luxury of time gave this bacth of songs the change to mature before being recorded live at the Map Room Studio, with former bassist Boone Howard and producer Sonny DiPerri.
“That album took absolutely three people to write—four with Sonny,” Neighbors
says. “It took fighting, and pushing, and arguing.”
There is something to be said for putting in the work and time required to create
something new and inspired. The first EP—also recorded at Map Room—was written
and recorded quickly. Studio time was booked before the songs were even finished, and
some lyrics were wrapped up while in the studio. But this time around, the three
members could pass around demos and throw out songs that didn’t work well.
“I’m way more proud of the songs on the record that have
grown on me than the ones that I initially liked,” Ditson adds.
The extra time to create depth and purpose pays off on tracks like “Fire and
Ashes and Shit,” a track with a chord progression befitting Neighbors’ electronic project
Hustle and Drone—a new angle for the guitar and feedback-heavy direction typical of
Help. That track is dark, personifying wisdom as knocked-out and death as a subject
caught gazing into the mirror to watch itself burn and melt. But there is something
beautiful found in the why— “so he can see himself breathe and see you breathe,” tags
the verse. There is catharsis and truth in finding connection in the midst of chaos,
metaphorically and physically. Asked what gives him hope, Neighbors responds,
“playing shows again, and coming together with people that I have missed seeing and
really care about, has done a lot.”
Bim adds that “the whole thing is rooted in real space and real
talk—the live thing is what it’s all about, and the rest of it comes out
2053 released in March on Nadine Records, and the band has had plenty of
opportunities to build connection through music. Keep an eye out for tour dates.