London trio offers grooves and hooks to spare on its debut LP, rising to the top of the post-xx fray.
In the last few years, plenty of acts have politely shuffled into the space between that exists between, say, James Blake and the xx. That space, filled with pregnant silences and rippling bass and hushed vocals, has become vaunted real estate as dozens of groups seem to discover Burial and Voodoo at the same time, gently jockeying for position in one of the young decade’s singular musical trends. But the three young gentleman in London’s Vondelpark bought their lot earlier than most—led by Lewis Rainsbury, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/producer/braintrust, they’ve been exploring the more enigmatic side of the quiet storm renaissance for years, in various guises.
Seabed, Vondelpark’s debut album, immerses its listener in a richly evocative, delectably lush sonic world, especially when piped through headphones or, one imagines, into a first-time dorm-room makeout session. This is wonderfully lush music, sexy without an ounce of brashness or misplaced aggression, romantic in a way so untouched by self-consciousness that the yearning here feels youthful in the sense “rejuvenated” suggests—alive to the point of breathing new life into an old, worn vessel.
It may have something to do with Vondelpark as a unit being more “alive” than many of its like-minded peers, in the literal sense. This is a band, its songs written in extended group jam sessions; the electronic elements add texture and tones, but Vondelpark builds its songs on analog skeletons. I don’t offer that as a reactionary rockist sentiment but as an essential key to understanding how Seabed differs—in an effective, exciting way—from a record like xx. “California Analog Dream”, the record’s centerpiece and finest track, is a perfect example: the busy live drums, steady bass, and staccato guitar lock together so tightly that the groove becomes hermetically sealed, a cohesion offered only to a band whose members know each others' rhythms so well they function like a hive mind. The other flourishes in the mix, forlorn harmonica splashes and a sample of a female voice used percussively in the song’s bridge, stretch the song’s horizons but never compete for a place at its center of gravity.
“California Analog Dream” segues seamlessly into “Closer”, which bleeds into “Seabed”—it feels appropriate to call the songs a suite, though the hooks on each stand alone and each offers subtle shifts in mood. “Seabed” is particularly striking in its emotional clarity, Rainsbury stripping the reverb from his vocals to make his sentiments plain, delivering his lyrics in a rhythmic lockstep suitable for the undertow of the song’s groove: “I won’t say it / If you won’t say it, / We’re going in circles / But that’s the way you play it, / I’ve been thinking / That something’s missing, / I’m so tired / Of trying to be your friend." Even the person on the receiving end of that barb would have a hard time turning away from the song; its mesmerizing, intricate production hits with a relaxing, rainy day dopamine push.
Elsewhere, Vondelpark shows its playful side to results just as arresting. Breezily joyful “Always Forever” glides by on a bouncing, high-necked bass riff, Rainsbury offering endearingly clumsy love notes: “I’m just tripping off desire of you” and “I’m just saying that I’m having a time, / You’re just saying that you’re having a time." A sample from Aretha Franklin’s “Wonderful” adds a carefree, summertime feel to the otherwise wordless “Bananas (On My Biceps)”, and opener “Quest” offers crystalline guitars and handclap percussion that pushes its cheekiness almost to the level of GAYNGS or other yacht rock revivalists.
That may be the most crucial distinction to make when stacking Seabed next to kissing cousins xx or Rhye or Inc. This is a fun record, one whose effusiveness only reveals itself slowly, with repeat listens opening up more and more emotional layers hovering beneath its sleepy atmosphere. Seabed is a dream, and like most of those, it’s worth giving it more attention that you might first think.