I’m going to go ahead and assume that the Sea Tac in Lasse Lindh’s You Wake Up at Sea Tac is the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. I do have some clues that lead me to this. The album’s cover has a caricature of a gent standing solemnly with a large jetliner in the background. There’s lots of plane-y imagery within, too: boy sleeping on uncomfortable airport benches; boy looking beleaguered, with airborne aircraft in background. To confirm my hunch, I did a quick search on Google: yep, nearly everything related to the phrase “Sea Tac” had something to do with the Seattle-Tacoma area, and “SeaTac” is a bona fide nickname for that travel stop.
I’m convinced there’s meaning in this, even if it’s simply a coincidence. To go back to those drawings, they depict a boy in an uncomfortable situation, out of sync with where he is, waiting for either a departure or an arrival. Swedish Lindh, a pop star in his native land making his English debut with Sea Tac, is also on a journey: to a different market, through a different language and a different musical style (his past forays were teenybopper pop). What’s more, that boy who appears in the album insert is simply a cartoon of a self—a one-dimensional figure to whom we’re introduced without context, who we can’t quite identify. Is this boy Lasse? And if it is, does he want us to know anything about him?
Seemingly, on an album as confessional as Sea Tac sets out to be, the answer is yes. His songs are piled with stories of bleeding hearts and crushed egos and his singing, with undeniable likeness to Elliot Smith, sounds as if it takes all he’s got to muster the pint-sized punch of his shuddering, scratchy tenor. Lasse Lindh wants us to know he’s hurting, and he wants us to empathize with the pain. It’s not surprising, then, that the singer’s strongest suit is his ability to be nakedly feeble—to key up a vulnerability that pales his already somber demeanor. Take “C’mon Through” as emblematic of this quintessential weakness. “What is the body if not a place where you store all anger and happiness and pain,” he sings—and that’s one of the sunnier lines. Slow-strung and despondent, the piano builds the foundation of most of the number, strengthened by bass guitar, bass drum and cymbal.
There are brighter spots, though: a number of songs are clever etudes with an easy-going and boppy energy. Musically, “The Stuff” is a fervent dedication to the power of powerpop, and “The Heart is Old” is possibly the best and most put-together song on the album: a fantabulous low-riding gem of laid-back guitar lines and effortless harmonies. “Best Laid Plans”, though hardly happy-go-lucky, has a slightly funky beat that makes it seem more up tempo, and “Walk With Me”, a song about loyalty and ultimatums, has a definitively solemn groove.
But, like the insert, Sea Tac is ultimately self-effacing. Lindh’s barely-there vocals sound as if he’s forcing himself to sing, or trying hard not to disturb his neighbors. Lyrically, the songs are small and the words are smaller, making the ideas that they attempt to convey sound at best juvenile and at worst, lame. The album is thus like a diary where all the juicy bits have been edited out.
Despite the opinion of many of the genre’s detractors, not just anyone can write an album of believable, emotional pop. It takes not only a certain sincerity, but also self-reliance that can openly embrace the chaos of one’s experience and jettison it, full force, into the world. It’s a difficult territory to travel, one that banks on proximity rather than distance. Perhaps on his next outing, Lasse Lindh will wake up a little closer to home.
// Notes from the Road
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