Sea Oleena: Shallow

Photo: Arnold Frolics

"Exit light, enter night... take my hand, off to never, neverland."

Sea Oleena


Label: Lefse
US Release date: 2014-09-30
UK Release date: 2014-09-29

Sea Oleena's world is a world of dreams. Shallow, like its composer Charlotte Loseth's two previous records, is an experience similar to being slipped a heavy sedative. Do not be alarmed if, during its seven-shot course of musical anesthesia, your spirit floats over the rooftops, across the fields into the forests. You'll walk across frozen lakes and experience a still life breathing in slow motion. There will be black halos, bronze horses, haunted hills, abandoned doorways, long limbs and a moon in the mirror. There may be tree hugging. No need to panic, all is perfectly safe and natural. Now please, count back from 10...

"If I'm" is the pale, outstretched hand that helps you crossover into the Other. That's the sound of 4:00am in the winter woods. Falling snow. Creaking branches. Shivering strings. Doleful double bass. Drawn, dragging beats. The hiss of a million insects. An ancient piano plays arpeggio. But the voice calls sweet, friendly, "I found a black bat tangled in a birch tree." Yum. Luckily there's no cauldron in sight. Sounds shift and turns unexpectedly, pockets of melody appear and dissipate like mist unraveling in reverse whilst angel wings flap gently within an ambient fog, "You're the darkness that this corner clings to." Run to the light y'all...

Once you're under, you're in. The title track is half-Twin Peaks wrapped in plastic, half-toddler's bedtime lullaby. Unnerving and creepy yet strangely alluring. It's reminiscent of spectral Swedish singer Stina Nordenstam at her most cryptic. Traditional pop structures don't live here. This is more freeform like jazz. It's not what you put in, it's what you leave out. The spaces in between. A semi-conscious vocal whose vision is blurry, smeared. Gathering whispers swim around you and stroke your hair. Beats paddle across like half-asleep heartbeats toward lonely, sparse piano chords and softly plucked violins. "In the shadow of everyone, carry on slow." Remember to keep breathing. Songs swap sides and melt into one another so you don't know where one begins and one ends. The effect is fittingly disorientating. "To Hold" is Ophelia by the brook. Gently rippling guitar, nostalgia tripping and the sun's embrace reflecting in the water like diamonds. A drowning swell of bittersweet violins and one promise for tomorrow, "...and I'll try".

"I dreamt again that I still knew you well." Yes there are moments where you'll find yourself -- Blair Witch style -- a tad lost in the thicket of dreams, with suspicious feelings of déjà vu. The same spooky branches?! The same misty moor?!! The creaking oak, fog float and hazily strummed acoustics of "Shades of Golden" are the main culprit. "I said I'll try / Oh I'll try" it reminds us. Yep, definitely trod this path before. This leads you approaching the 11 and a half-minute centre piece "Vinton, LA" with cautious trepidation. It's an exhausting stretch that proves bad and good. The first half is too typically Shallow. Sparse piano and taut cello with atmospheric flicker, "Were we really leaving shadows hidden behind our past selves?" Better get comfy. But it undergoes an intriguing, if characteristically outstretched, metamorphosis. The second half falls faster, darker, an inescapable descent into the depths, "Holier arms couldn't hold all the darkness you...[exhales] hhhhhide." For its closing collapse you're utterly transfixed. Shallow perhaps would've benefited from more such daringly melodramatic touches. More contrast in the colour, more shake in the slumbers. You'll sometimes glance at the vivid bloodied hand on the album's sleeve and wish for one more flash of lightning or the odd nightmare to stir the senses and electrify the pulse.

When you're deepest in the dream though, pinned to the moment, Shallow is still quietly wonderful. The bright, ethereal "Everyone With Eyes Closed" shines like Julee Cruise waltzing through the Doors' beatific "Indian Summer", "I was sliding slow away from everything I'd wanted before." A slow boat merrily rowing down the stream, serenaded by strings, happy-high on horse tranquilizers and blissfully lost in the rapture beneath a sky of lil' pink fluffy clouds. "I was more an ocean than a boat," it sighs and hey, don't Bogart that joint. The highest high though is the romantic, poetic and doomed finale "Paths". Oleena beckons as if from beyond the grave, turning a music box melody to reach us. "Am I alive when I'm awake?" she asks. Spiraling guitars wind round and down, down and round. "I'll walk over the waves of frozen lakes to find you" it waves. The sound is falling in slow-motion, falling out of the dream. You'll shiver your way out of Shallow.

Shallow isn't a record you listen to it's more a record you fall into. Hallucinatory, elusive, abstract, fragile, and yes, sometimes frustratingly befuddling. A something that "Stands at the edge of awake" and like a dream the moment it's over it's gone. It's the kind of curiosity you'd like to imagine fell out of the sky during a snow blizzard or something you stumbled over whilst rambling in the woods, lying beside a rabbit hole, covered in Autumn leaves. You don't really want to know its creator is a budding photographer from Montreal in her early 20s, or that she sometimes works in a café or has a colourful indie-folk side project with her brother. Shallow works best when you let it just deepen the mystery. Probably advisable not to listen it on repeat though for fear you lose your mind.

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