Like the age-old expression says, big things come in small packages. So it is with the debut release by Dutch synth-pop artist, Gijs van Ouwerkerk, who operates under the moniker of Heliophile. His debut release, while short on quantity, is simply MASSIVE on quality. It’s a small package that packs one hell of a wallop!
van Ouwerkerk describes his music as, “a cross between the more accessible British synthpop and the slightly darker stuff made in Germany.” After over a dozen listens, I can attest to the truthfulness of his self-description. Heliophile has all the subtle hints of classic-era Depeche Mode, Talk Talk, and similar UK synth greats. However, it really smacks strongly of the finer German synth-pop acts like De/Vision, Camouflage, and Propaganda. Simply put, Nebula is a perfectly-crafted exercise in modern euro synth-pop. It’s sheer ear candy!
While all four tracks are solid in their own right, the EP’s title track is the real strong standout of the group. ‘Nebula’ is a glorious synth tune that incorporates a lovely guitar solo arrangement into a steady, pulsating mid-tempo song about the astronomical enigma of nebulas. For those who love science and astronomy, this is the coolest track ever. It sounds like something De/Vision would have done…… IF De/Vision were cool enough to write about such things.
Heliophile dumps his affinity for science as the subject matter for the remainder of the album however, and touches mainly upon religion and philosophy in his songs, ‘An Exercise in Exorcism’, ‘Kingdom of Light’ and ‘Trampled Garden of Delight’. Appearing to have an axe to grind with organized religion in general, and Catholicism, in particular, van Ouwerkerk sings in ‘Kingdom of Light’,
“Hey mister pope man, preaching from unmanly heights
What makes you think that your temples still entice?
When they’re brimmed with your symbols of agony, hate and fear
And as the maelstrom spins, avenging cardinal’s sins
And masses congregate to set the record straight
Dawn will break and you’ll wake as the “profligates” take your throne”
No matter how the listener feels about the subject matter, one cannot deny the stark sincerity with which it is sung. His lyrics are straight from the heart, and the music is every bit as deep and direct as the lyrical content. Religion can be a touchy subject for some people, but I believe Heliophile is able to express his feelings in a direct and concise manner, but still maintain a level of dignity without sounding too over-the-top or theatrical in his aversion to matters of faith.
Indeed, there is an obvious theme of religion and social politics in Heliophile’s lyrics. Some of the more conservative-minded folks might be somewhat put-off by his mildly anti-religion sway, but that would be unfortunate. The EP is a perfect example of how melancholy and personal anguish can be crafted into world-class synth-pop. At the end of the day, as an avid fan of synth-pop, that’s all I really care about. The whole EP sounds like some of the best German-influenced synth-pop I’ve heard in the past 20 years.
Heliophile’s music is thought-provoking, melodic and brilliantly produced.
Some of the finest electronic music in the world comes out of the Netherlands. Armin van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, and many others are the lifeblood of modern trance and synth-pop in Europe. The Netherlands is the epicenter of much of my favourite music. Add Heliophile to that constantly-growing list of Dutch greats. He’s nothing like Corsten or van Buuren musically, but certainly on their level in terms of his expertise and how well-rounded his finished product is. Heliophile’s music is simultaneously dark and sweet. It oozes life and emotion. From the science geek chic of ‘Nebula‘, to the anti-religious rants of ‘Trampled Garden of Delight‘, the Nebula EP is a certifiable hit in every way. With only four songs, it does feel a bit short, but the listening experience, brief as it is, leaves you hungry for more. It serves as a stellar introduction. If there’s any justice in the world, this won’t be the last we’ll hear from Heliophile. He’s an indie artist who really gets it.
I welcome his arrival with open arms!
I’m awarding the Nebula EP 5 out of 5 stars.
This wonderful EP can be purchased via Bandcamp:
Support indie artists!
– Jimm Kjelgaard – August 2013