Whatever else they have going for them, Seeland have an impeccable pedigree. Named after one of Neu!’s best songs and packing an album cover the BBC might have made in the ‘70s, Tim Felton and Billy Bainbridge (formerly of Broadcast and Plone, respectively) have the bona fides and references to ensure they at least stick out from anyone else making gently retro, gauzy synth pop. Seeland may lack the bouncily abstract feel of Plone and the weird kick of Broadcast (the band that made the world safe for Ghost Box, for better or worse), but as the opening “Burning Pages” makes clear, they’ve got a firm grip on the kind of soft, smooth propulsion it’s so easy to achieve with synthesizers, and know their way around a chorus to boot. It’s a bit like a kinder, gentler M83, and wholly compelling.
Given Felton’s vocal similarity to the iconoclastic Gruff Rhys, you might almost be disappointed at how un-wacky Seeland are, how their quirk resides on the more subtle side (this is a band that sings the refrain “I know, there’s a fire” on a song titled “Library”, after all). The likes of “Turnaround” and “Goodbye” are straightforwardly sweet and “Call the Incredible” (the incredible being “you”, apparently) verges on self-help. But when they go too far down that mid-tempo road, as on “Colour Dream”, or go too twee on the lovelorn “Captured”, Seeland inches towards indie easy listening.
So it would be easy to damn Seeland for being nothing more than pleasant, but their sound draws equally on everything from Joe Meek to the more narcotized, pop-wise side of Ulrich Schnauss, and it’s hard to fault Felton and Bainbridge for making such a canny, seamless blend of such a wide variety of influences (echoes of everyone from Kraftwerk to Suicide are faintly discernable) so outwardly pleasant and unassumingly catchy. Music like this is never going to be terribly fashionable—it lacks the sneer and sex of so much of the pop music made in this vein, and certainly those things are missed. But when was the last time you listened to a synth-pop album that was outright comforting?
At it’s best, as on the slightly harder-edged “Static Object” and the sighing loveliness of “Station Sky”, Seeland make their sound and mild temperament work to such a degree that you wish this sort of thing and not the more bracing likes of La Roux was what’s hip right now (although, in truth, one of the things that makes Tomorrow Today so enjoyable is that its soft-heartedness is a rarity). The few tracks where Seeland drop the ball reveal that their sound is dangerously amenable to turning into mere wallpaper, though. If they focus on sticking to the extremes of their pleasant palette Seeland might be on to something, but even if they lapse into beige in the future, they’ve given us at least one solidly enjoyable album of soft-focus glee.
// Notes from the Road
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