Vondelpark, Seabed

[R&S Records]

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On paper, Seabed shouldn’t be too difficult a listen. An extension of the post-dubstep territory from which they’re birthed, the UK trio Vondelpark have adopted many of the sorta-maligned, sorta-undeniable genre’s key signifiers: woozy, understated, low-slung. The difference being that their interpretation of as much is channeled through instrumentation as opposed to electronic productions. And whereas most post-dubstep purveyors have abandoned the movement for more house-tinged pastures, they’ve ambled onward, slipping even further into a wine-drunk haze along their path. Even quotes from the band cast sleepy-eyed expectations: “It’s supposed to be the ultimate bedroom listen,” remarks frontman Lewis Rainsbury. “There’s a lot of closure on the record, about feelings to do with being young and in love.” Yet, despite a meager 42-minute runtime, Vondelpark’s debut LP manages to feel like a slog, lacking a single ethereous moment while forcing the listener into an insurmountable slump of depression. Maybe I’m further removed from “being young and in love” than I thought.

And if I’m being completely honest, much of my opinion regarding this album was cast in stone prior to a single listen thanks to this Pitchfork interview wherein the group touts the virtues of being “real.” They seem at least cognizant of the opportunity afforded in seeing release on R&S, though their tone in differentiating what will be memorable in 10 years’ time reeks of a hackneyed vet, not a group with nine songs in their entire catalog. And if Seabed lived up to their self-appointed prodigal expectations, I’d have no problem commending their “real”-ness. But the fact of the matter is, nothing here feels real. It all drifts without consequence. The most blatant comparison is label-mate James Blake, largely due to shared vocal ticks: an ever-escalating, unfazed warble. But whereas Blake’s effectiveness is attributed to his juxtaposed presentation — hypnotic and airy repetition with a brutal-by-contrast low-end — Vondelpark omits the latter half of that equation, allowing their tracks to coast until they burn themselves out. It plays as a rather coy tension-building technique, until you realize that there is no tangible release, no payoff for accompanying them through the shoegaze-y mire.

To their credit, Vondelpark know how to write a melody. Tracing further down the reference point timeline, we arrive at sunsoaked forefathers like Roy Ayers and Weather Report. Jazz-tinged psychedelia that drifts overhead by construct, never touching down in the moment, only ever after the fact and when you’re least expecting. Which is how I found myself mouthing along to the staid gaw of “Come On” hours after taking in my first listen. Or how the hook on “California Analog Dream” — some of the few comprehensible lyrics amongst a lot of unintelligible yammering — still resides on the tip of my tongue, despite (or perhaps, because) of their aching simplicity. It’s difficult to label these moments outright highlights because they don’t wow on arrival, yet their ability to mimic the free-flowing nature of the proceedings is laudable. That they’ll still be memorable 10 years down the line, however, seems more surreal than anything included.

ryan  on April 4, 2013 at 4:31 PM

“no payoff for accompanying them through the shoegaze-y mire”

Hey, now, a shoegaze-y mire is a payoff in and of itself. I believe I’ve heard better mires than the song posted, though. Not bad, though. Not bad.

toby  on April 6, 2013 at 6:41 PM

The fact Michael refers to ‘post-dubstep’ makes this article as relevant as my mothers assessment of my music taste. At which point did every teenager with a macbook in their bedroom become a reliable reporter. To listen to Seabed was an overwhelming relief. From seeing Vondelpark live in support of Blake it was obvious that the band was heading somewhere not many can or will attempt. The direction in which Vondelpark are attempting to push their work is something which should be encouraged and supported. As Michael seems so intent on speaking about the band in 10 years, I’d be more than willing to recipricate. When did people begin listening to music for it being intelligible Michael?

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