Music

Seachange: Lay of the Land

Richard T. Williams

Seachange

Lay of the Land

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2004-04-06
UK Release Date: 2004-03-08
Amazon
iTunes

One of the more polarizing efforts released this year, Seachange's debut album initially sounds like a retread of some of the louder names in '90s alternative rock (especially Sonic Youth and New Adventures in Hi-Fi-era R.E.M.), but only because the band have obscured their true identity, as adventurous torch-carriers attempting to express last decade's raw indie sound in passionate new ways, similar to ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead.

The major reason for the polarization is intrinsic to the band's sound, as typified by the opening track "Anglokana". For the first three minutes, the song offers something akin to macabre, melancholic folk. Frontman Dan Eastop presents, in his plain but attractive voice, a River's Edge-like tale of a drunk young lover pointlessly killing his girlfriend, while Johanna Woodnutt's omnipresent violin quietly winds its way around a gently strummed guitar until it becomes the central focus, like a snake about to strike. The band suddenly unleashes brashly, with lacerating guitars and Eastop's rapid-fire speak-sing delivery, detailing the outside world's reaction to the murder, or rather its misrepresentation by the media that doesn't care to understand the emotions involved in such a relationship. These two sides of the band, the black and the white, blend quite well over the remaining course of the record; yet as captivating as various shades of gray can be, from a distance, they still compose a colorless wash. The band's energy, intensity, and dynamism, as well as a collection of distinct songs, still do not prevent the record from sounding subdued and monochromatic.

While the lack of color on Lay of the Land appears to be an aesthetic decision in the production (by the band with Mark Spivey) rather than a failing on the band's part, Seachange have yet to prove they can deliver vibrancy, even though several of the album's tracks make a strong case for it. "Glitterball" is an alluring stunner. Anchored by the fine drumming of Simon Aldcroft, and carried by the blanket-of-guitars-with-violin combination that defines the band, Eastop's vocals convey a drama merely hinted at before, especially in the refrain of "She lost her nerve / For a '60s moment". "Superfuck" is an Oasis-like burst of energetic Brit-rock, given a garage flavor courtesy of its screaming chorus and reverb-dabbling vocal track, while the brief "Forty Nights" is even faster and louder, buried underneath a thick layer of Psychocandy's feedback. The centerpiece of the album is also its best track, "Do It All Again". Though Woodnutt's violin is either absent or undetectable through much of the song (and when it does appear, it feels somewhat forced), it is a tour de force for the other five members of the band. Featuring an anomalous keyboard at the beginning, it is also the album's least characteristic track, posing a threat to the band's sense of identity. In fact, Lay of the Land demonstrates such a vast array of styles in its songwriting with equal strength that it renders incoherence, lending credence to the probability that the shades-of-gray approach to the album's sound is an attempt to unify its opposing ideas.

Walking the line between the band's harder edge and the melancholy areas it should visit more often, "News from Nowhere", a constant frenzy of sad energy, is a better representative of what Seachange are about. The slow-burning epic "Come on Sister" attempts to do the same thing, but beyond the enigmatic verse about dead witches and finding spells to keep love alive, it resorts to using dynamics to veil an anemic melody. The bottom line is that Lay of the Land, although a great debut, finds the band working through varying material that was most likely written over a long period of time. For their next record, Seachange will be forced to work from a more concentrated burst of creativity, refining their sound and allowing the songs to develop common threads without deliberately stripping them of color, crippling their identity.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.