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Seekonk - For Barbara Lee

Reviews

All Music Guide

Seekonk's debut album, For Barbara Lee, introduces the band's bewitching core, dream pop, and post-rock. While Seekonk most resembles Things We Lost in the Fire-era Low, some of the quieter moments of Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Mogwai pop up in this album's meticulously layered arrangements. Meanwhile, Shana Barry's vocals suggest the hazy, honeyed delivery of Hope Sandoval as well as the whispery beauty of Lisa Germano and Tanya Donelly. But just because Seekonk's influences loom large in the group's sound doesn't mean that this is a Frankenstein-like cut-and-paste job of bits and pieces of different sounds and styles; on For Barbara Lee, the group creates a presence all its own. Songs like "Move" and "Swim Again" drift along on gentle guitars, keyboards, and buried drums before swelling into triumphant crescendos, buoyed along by French horns, flutes, and insistently chanted vocals. This approach could be considered formulaic if the results weren't so pretty and, at times, moving. For Barbara Lee's middle section is also its high point, as Seekonk stretches out a bit, adding some spaghetti Western drama to the creepily lovely "Hate the Sun," on which Barry intones "Still life, still life" like a medium in a trance. "The Delivery" is a seven-minute epic that spans a whispering wind, strings, birds chirping, and delicately plucked guitars with an effortless flow; "20 Degrees" moves from desolate alt-country to a surprisingly bright finale with sleigh bells and pretty harmonies that sound like a cozy December evening. These three songs are so beautiful that they tend to eclipse the rest of For Barbara Lee, although the relatively brisk, crisp "You Got What Was Coming to You" finds the band compressing its sound into a charming pop song. Still, For Barbara Lee is an atmospheric, strangely nostalgic debut, the best moments of which hint that Seekonk is on its way to creating even more striking music.

>>> allmusic.com


Indie Workshop

God bless the multi-instrumentalist. Never has music been peppered with so many instruments and so few players. It is like a freaking Lullaby for the Working Class album in here, with these Seekonk crazies from Portland, Maine... trombones clashing with rattling birdcages and melodicas whistling by theremin pulses...where is the damned flugelhorn?

Let's try some associations for this album. I will say a phrase, and then I will counter it with another phrase. You just sit there and pay attention. Everything will make sense eventually. I said, eventually...

Seekonk = Sweet and lush.
Kimchee Records = the new 4AD?
Girlvocals = Sexyhot.
Shimmering guitars = blissful sleepwalking music.

This record is truly amazing in that it totally recreates the feel of the glory days of 4AD, right down to the super stylish Vaughn 23'esque CD designs. By track 2, "Swim Again", you are so far gone into this dream world of sounds that you could swear it was 1991 again and the Breeders just put out Pod and you just bought it along with Lush's Spooky and some older This Mortal Coil stuff. Man, this is a truly amazing record, to create that feeling without ripping off those bands in any way.

By the middle of track 3, things take a turn for the spooky as the rhythm is moved along by distant thumping machines and thick flanges of sound. From then on, it is anybody's guess what this album will sound like... and that is a great thing. You actually find yourself listening to this album, waiting in hushed anticipation for the next twist or turn. Thank you, Indieworkshop, for sending me this amazing CD... did I mention it was amazing?

Get this record. It will continually astound you, maybe even until 4AD becomes a good label again.

>>> indieworkshop.com


Brainwashed

There's something to be said for a slow burn in a song: not letting it all go to start with but to let it build slowly, adding kindling or whatever fuels it to satisfaction, then unleashing the full controlled burn on whatever suits the fancy. For such a young band to have mastered that art as skillfully as Seekonk is amazing, but this Portland, Maine ensemble has done just that. Formed about a year and a half ago, these multi-instrumentalists concoct heavy slow rock that waits a perceived eternity before letting loose, and it's aggravating in that special way. When it does release, this music has the ease of a bird taking flight, gliding through the air with efficiency and majesty. Album opener "Move" fools right away, sounding almost plodding and lackluster, but when the last third of the song kicks in and vocalist Shana Barry lets loose with "I was born in the sky above," I get it. "Swim Again" impresses with laboring beat and chiming guitar, while Patrick Corrigan and Dave Noyes blend beautifully with Barry's rasp to create a delicate hypnotism until the hammer falls. Then Babylon, as all voices sing as one, and the song is a wonderous thunderstorm of noise and melody. Two tracks in and I'm already needing a rest. So one comes in the form of "Hate the Sun," which doesn't explode with energy like the others even though it is quite pretty. The album slows down a bit, but then picks up again in the middle of "20 Degrees" and stretches its legs, trying out some different sounds and tempos. "You Got What Was Coming to You" is perfect scary, and the lyrics are sardonic and dismissive, the climax of the record, before two more relatively solid tracks that hit all the right switches. Only one concern: Barry left after recording was completed and has since been replaced by Danielle Hylen. Only the live show will tell for sure, but I hope she can carry these tunes and then some. Otherwise, this debut is too amazing a high note to have it wasted away.

>>> brainwashed.com


Aversion

Seekonk lives in that weird world that straddles waking and dreaming states, the heavy-lidded times when rationality leaves the brain to its own wherever-the-wind-takes-it, soft-focus dreams. It's the space where slowcore rockers like Low and Codeine mix things up with the playful, if wandering, pop of Galaxie 500. It lives in the place where rules are faintly remembered at best and then are only mere guidelines.

Moving with a languid, deliberate grace Seekonk burrows through the semi-conscious with an airy, if not exactly light, swirl of Low-styled guitars, a faraway Fender Rhodes and a slew of other as-needed instrumentation that includes theremin, melodica and vibraphone. It's difficult to tell where Seekonk's songs are headed until they get there, as the act has a habit of twisting back upon itself in the middle song or shooting off on an unexpected tangent: "Hate the Sun" opens with an ominous and metered reverb-rattled kick drum, then lightens up as Shana Barry's breathy delivery and a plodding guitar take some of its edge off, only to be jarred back into the world of creepy through the sounds of wrenching metal and high-in-the-mix thuds. "You Got What Was Coming To You," the record's most conventional track, fiddles around with acoustic guitars that bury the band's dreamlike synths beneath straight-pop conventions.

Most of the time, however, Seekonk, sticks to its blend of leisurely tempos, slow-blooming melodies and moderately long songs (most of the tracks on For Barbara Lee are well over five minutes long) that deliver the goods for anyone who's willing to let them unravel in their own time. "Move" features a glacial guitar figure that becomes more impressive as it unfolds, and "Tiny Lustre" carries itself with regal tempos and fuzzy melodies.

Seekonk isn't the sort of band that's easily classified or broken down which is the secret to enjoying its music. It's slow, delicate and majestic - and a great listen for anyone willing to let its beauties unravel at his or her own pace.

>>> aversion.com


Opus

Last year, Kimchee Records sent me a copy of Torrez' The Evening Drag, a darkly beautiful album that was one of my favorite albums of 2002. And now, a year later, they send me a copy of Seekonk's For Barbera Lee, which would be perfect for the B side of a mixtape with Torrez' album. While perhaps not quite as dark and foreboding as Torrez's album, For Barbera Lee holds much of the same allure for me with its slowly building songs, constructed out of haunting atmospherics, lovely instrumentation, and the breathy vocals of Shana Berry.

The album opens with one of its loveliest tracks; "Move" stars off slowly, with pensive guitars, sparse drumming, and brushed keys barely maintaining the song's shape and form. Meanwhile, Berry sings as if she's caught in perpetual sigh. "Move" is a perfect example of Seekonk's slowburning tendencies; as the song picks up the pace, the drums grow more consistent, the guitars more confident, and by song's end, Berry's voice finds itself cresting along on a rolling wave of chiming guitars as her words ("I was born in the sky above...") slowly descend back down to the listener.

"Swim Again" continues in the same vein, though this time a lofty horn arrangement soars somewhere above the churning guitars and crashing drums, echoing the weightlessness of Berry's voice. "Hate The Sun" takes the album on a more amorphous route, with groaning feedback and picked guitars creeping along to an ominous pulse. It's the album's darkest and most obtuse moment, and yet the ghostly vocals manage to have an oddly playful lilt to them.

This amorphous quality ebbs and flows over into "The Delivery", a captivating, Califone-like track that meanders across 7 minutes. Echoing percussion, grainy drones, strings, quivering electronics, and fragile lullaby-like guitar melodies find themselves lost in a strange collage of field recordings. It's not really accurate to call this a "song", though at times the various elements do coalesce into something somewhat definable. But for the most part, it's rather shapeless, and yet the sonic depths contained within are nonetheless beautiful and captivating.

After several tracks of rather languid pace, it's nice to hear the band get a bit more uptempo, which they do on "You Got What Was Coming To You". Its upbeat drumming and choppy acoustic guitars make it the album's most energetic track, and yet the subtle cello and Berry's gentle vocals give it an airy, expansive feel at the same time.

The album ends with a rumbling cloud of drones and feedback, out of which "Maps Of Egypt" slowly emerges. Berry's voice joins them, singing "I am not a Rubik's cube/My colors don't align/I am solved fairly easily/Maybe I'm a red brick wall/I challenge you to climb/I bet you'd fall" (it's fascinating to hear just how much emotional punch those lyrics have from Berry's icy delivery, given their imagery). The song is a perfect capper to the album, with aching vocals and lovely instrumentation to spare, and ends like it begins, disappearing back into a roiling cloud of sound.

When I first heard For Barbara Lee, I had it playing in the background while I worked on other stuff. I thought it was fairly decent, but nothing terribly special. Certainly it didn't bowl me over quite like The Evening Drag had when I first heard it. But much like the slowly building nature of its songs, I found my appreciation inexorably growing with each listen.

In fact, as I listened to it while driving down the interstate on a clear, cold November day, the empty fields and naked trees whipping by under a pale grey sky, I was amazed at just how much these songs had enveloped me. I could think of nothing better to listen to in that particular time, place, and state of mind. These subtle, unassuming songs had completely won out.

>>> opuszine.com


Dream Magazine

This Portland, Maine quintet is built around the songwriting collaboration between Patrick Corrigan and David Noyes. They recruited a beguiling female singer in the form of Shana Barry to sing their songs and were joined by drummer Jason Ingalls and guitarist/keyboard player Todd Hutchisen to complete the picture. Their mission seems to be a sort of lovely melancholic spellcasting, as they slowly unfold these majestic monumental constructions. They can also be quite subtle and whisperingly understated when the mood strikes them; in places they recall the organic delicacy of the Jewelled Antler gang, though more often they sound a bit like Low covering Neil Young from the bottom of a deep sorrowful well. But it's safe to say they avoid any easy categorization, while they remain immanently listenable and engaging throughout all their phases and faces.

>>> dreamgeo.com


Splendid

There are certain musical styles that, in my opinion, bands adopt simply because they can't play. Slowcore, for example, tends to attract people who just picked up a guitar and perform as such because they have no choice -- the mind is willing but the fingers are weak.

This might also be the case for the members of Portland's Seekonk (that's Portland, Maine): all are admitted novices, but their understanding of the heart of the genre transcends their ability. They make music that suspends time, your pulse and your mind -- you know, "the type of songs you inhabit rather than just listen to". For Barbara Lee lives in that twilight where your soul and body are barely connected: you're paralyzed, but you don't care, as the euphoria is enough to sustain you.

Armed with everything and the kitchen sink (and "amplified birdcage"), the band created music that reflects its members' eclectic nature (they are sculptors, painters, illustrators, church choir singers). "Move" begins the set in a haze of Rhodes and guitars, echoing some Impressionistic work that dances around two chord "centers". Vocalist/theremin player Shana Berry (recently replaced by Danielle Hylen) melts her schoolgirl croon into the mix, barely audible as she whispers, "Nobody knew you flew". The drums are the typical fare: slowed-down jazzy-style playing full of ghost notes and soft strokes on the ride cymbal. Though this sounds a bit typical, it is and it isn't. Instead of wallowing in a haze like so many Low imitators (yes, Seekonk are known to cover their songs on stage), this music is a bit more directed. At the four-minute mark, you realize that the band has been building up to a wonderful chorus, which shifts tempo as four voices gently sing "I was born in the sky above, and 2000 feet below, people know, people know."

The majority of the tracks follow this pattern, but it's never tiring; the band's use of color, texture and harmony offsets the repetitiveness. "Swim Again" begins as what seems like a comp on the guitar opener of the Doors' "The End", but Barry's voice and the slightly manipulated drum kit reassure you that you won't be killing your father. Again, around the four-minute mark the track explodes with cymbal crashes, a tasteful trombone counter-melody and soaring turn-on-all-your-effects guitar washes, barely restrained. A creative use of panning on "You Got What Was Coming to You" -- drum kit and subtle cello stabs on the left, lead acoustic guitar and occasional snare hits on the right and cheap-microphone vocals set way back in the middle -- makes an interesting opening, further enhanced as cool noises and ethereal voices pop in and out of the mix. "Tiny Lustre" demonstrates the band's ability to effortlessly move in a chromatic fashion from A to Z -- and to successfully make Z sound like home.

This is a tough genre to tackle properly, but despite Seekonk's relatively newness (they formed in early 2002), they seem to have it all worked out. Their debut demonstrates a maturity that some bands take four albums to achieve.

>>> splendidezine.com



Last modified: Friday, 25-Jun-2010 14:16:40 PDT

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