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The Heligoats: A Bright Mind Gets 'Brutal'

In the three years since the dissolution of his wonderful pop-rock group Troubled Hubble, Chris Otepka has poured himself into a one-man band with a silly name: The Heligoats. He built a home studio, only to have to tear it down and rebuild it, and he's fussed interminably over his elaborately orchestrated new songs, which sport special guests (including powerhouse drummer Kenny Aronoff) and some of the strangest lyrics Otepka has ever written.

He may seem to be courting an image as some sort of wild-eyed, oddball obscurity, especially as he tosses off unsettling lines in the ambitious "Kind/Brutal." (As in, "I wanna eat your skin / while you talk to yourself.") But in person, Otepka is as easygoing and unassuming as pop-singing eccentrics get, not to mention a wittily engaging songwriter who's just weird enough to achieve true brilliance.

"Kind/Brutal" seems to explode in about 15 directions at once: As its title suggests, it's two songs in one, but it's nowhere near that simple. As the track builds into a wall-of-sound epic, Otepka amps up the fanfare, complete with blaring horns, carefully buried discoveries and left-field insights such as, "It's so easy when you're unwanted / It's so easy to stay true." Throughout "Kind/Brutal," Otepka keeps piling on the ideas. But at some point along the way, they actually cohere, forming a bittersweet look at two misanthropes who stay together, in large part, because they don't deserve better.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)