Album Review: Helena Ford – “Therapy Goals” (Ambient/Drone/Neo-classical)

Written by Kirk

Helena FordTherapy Goals
> Ambient/drone/experimental/neo-classical/noise
> Illinois, US
> Released July 21
> Independent/self-release

There is a fairly healthy portion of the metal community that likes to make fun of bands like Sunn O))). They’ll say things like, “They have no riffs!”, “Can I just review my washing machine running for two hours instead?”, or, “Drone can be boring as fuck.” And while they are far from the only drone band in the metal world—Earth, Boris, and Khanate exist, to name a few—Sunn O))) seem to be among the most unappreciated and maligned bands in the drone world while simultaneously being among the most revered and influential. It’s really quite the dichotomy!

But you know what? I get it. In absolutely no way, shape, or form do I agree with the harsh criticism thrown at a band as deeply engaging both musically and emotionally as Sunn O))), but I also understand that they have a tendency to turn people completely off when it comes to drone music. Some metalheads like death metal and listen to nothing but death metal. The same goes for black metal, stoner rock, progressive metal/djent, etc. Not me. Sit me down at the subgenre buffet and let me feast. My appetite varies depending on my mood, and I’m always hungry, so you’ll often find me reaching for something exotic or experimental in the hopes of tickling as many fancies as humanly possible. Sorry, it’s just how I roll.

That’s probably why the new album from Helena Ford vibes with me so well. Steeped heavily in the deep, cavernous sonic textures of Sunn O))), Therapy Goals is less an album than it is a meditation on the struggles of attaining a sense of emotional balance through dialectical behavioral therapy. As a trans musician, Ford has a unique outlet for expressing her personal experiences in a very unique and thought-provoking way. It’s important to recognize how society (especially here in America) likes to pigeonhole and generalize the trans experience, and, in doing so, it’s even more important to understand that each voice and each experience is unique. It’s not an internet trend, it’s not the result of too much time online, it’s not the result of too much media influence, or any of the other absurdly ridiculous supposed causes that close-minded patriarchal stalwarts want to blame. Instead, much like with victims of sexual assault, it’s incumbent that we listen to the individual and let them tell their story.

One thing you may be wondering is, “What is dialectical behavior therapy?”. DBT (short for dialectical behavior therapy) is a type of talk therapy for people who experience emotions very intensely. From the very moment you start listening to Therapy Goals, it becomes very obvious that Ford is a woman with extremely intense emotions. To quote directly from her Bandcamp page: “This is an album about DBT and CBT; I started this album at the start of my stay in a partial hospitalization and as part of my process. Music, for me, has always been incredibly therapeutic for me, almost to a fault; so I wanted to write a suite of pieces to form a narrative of this journey.” The album opens with “Learning to Love the Inner Child” like the spray of seawater upon your face as you lie stranded—lost and alone on a raft made of debris—in an ocean of distortion and feedback. Clocking in at a whopping 34:37, there is an immediate sense of confusion and disorientation that is almost overwhelming. There are immediate and hopefully intentional influences of Japanese noise titan Merzbow all over this track, and we find Ford utilizing feedback, distortion, and an undulating hum as a canvas upon which to paint with sound her own quest for balance and harmony as the song ebbs and flows through the many hills, canyons, and valleys of early life.

Up next is “Accepting the Entropy and Absurdity of the Emotions, Behavior, and Thoughts (And Becoming Okay with It),” a natural progression in Ford’s journey towards self-acceptance. Largely gone is the overwhelming sense of confusion and disorientation from the last song as those emotions gave way to a sense of peace towards the end. Much of the noise and chaos has evolved into a sense of purpose, more focused and direct, and instruments become more discernible over the course of the song’s mere 17:42. Aside from the obvious drone metal influences, there are subtle hints of early Sonic Youth present as well as no-wave composer Glenn Branca. At the heart of this song is a deep sense of meditation, an inward look that goes far beyond that of finding the inner child. This song is about finding your purpose and how to manifest it, which Ford does slowly as the wall of distortion slowly crumbles and fades to make room for her arsenal as her instruments begin to take center stage.

Closing the album is “Acknowledging Being Infinitesimally Small in the Universe (And Accepting It),” by far the shortest song at just 12:40. Here we find Ford less introspective and more aggressive, her compositions poignant and direct. As the title of the song suggests, it is an expression of one’s place in the grand scheme of the universe. Perhaps it is a statement on the proliferation of social media and how so many of us suffer from “main character syndrome,” but it really couldn’t have come at a better time. We’ve had the pleasure of watching Twitter slowly collapse in real time and new platforms rise to take its place, and this song feels like a response to that, a visceral reminder of what is truly important and what is mere vanity parading as virtue. Either way, Ford is a force of nature here, a woman to be reckoned with, and I strongly recommend taking the time to listen to what she has to say. It just might change your life.


At the end of the day, there’s really nothing wrong with liking the music you enjoy. Do I think you’re a weakling and a coward if you don’t like drone metal or long-form experimental music? Yeah, but I’m also just one person, so my opinion is really just that: an opinion. No one is forcing you to listen to anything I or any of my colleagues here at Noob Heavy have to say. But, on that same token, you come here voluntarily and have placed some measure of value on what we have to say. And with that in mind, what’s the harm in listening to something new and challenging? There is an infinite amount of art that exists purely to challenge your thoughts and expectations; Therapy Goals is just one example. What are you afraid of?