- R&S has had a new split personality since its late '00s renaissance. Half techno/bass and half indie electronica, the label is defined as much by floor-fillers as it is by the drifting serenity of Cloud Boat and Vondelpark. The latter trio hail from London and represent the somber side of the label's sound. Though their earlier work had traces of UK garage, Vondelpark's debut LP has a different mission. "It would be easy to write a house record at this time, everyone would rave about it," frontman Lewis Rainsbury explained in a recent interview, "but to me, that hasn't got as much longevity as a real record." Seabed, then, is the trio's attempt to make a "real record." It has all the breathing passages, plaintive intermissions and careful sequencing that define so many indie albums, but it seems that, in their quest for dignity, Vondelpark lost what makes them interesting.
Seabed lands somewhere between James Blake and the recent wave of indie pop groups like DIIV. Rainsbury's eminently British voice, its mellifluous cadences and occasional electronic manipulation, is pure Blake, especially on vocal-driven tracks like "Blue Again" and "Always Forever." And like the sketch-style songs of the UK star, Rainsnbury's melodies feel half-finished and mumbled. It's not a bad effect, but set against the band's tepid languor it washes over in a wave of grey.
Vondelpark have their moments: "California Analog Dream" (which dates back to 2010) proves they can write a pop song, and here the band's softly brushed drums and liquid guitar strokes contribute to a lovely ebb and flow that persists through the whole album. But that set-adrift feeling gets tiresome, and on a track like "Dracula," with its slow drum hits and barely-there vocal, you just wish it would finally take off and do something.
It never does. The band swim their way through the sleepy-eyed balladry of the title track, and attempt to make touching plastic soul with "Closer." What's most striking is how thoroughly they've scrubbed their sound of its dance influences, with garage only a vague hint in some of the beats. Late in the album, a sampled voice on "Bananas (On My Biceps)" stands out like phosphorescence in their dreary ocean, a simple phrase that's at once more soulful and emotive than anything else here. With its rich organ sounds and plaintive guitar, it channels the summer nostalgia of Beach House and adds some much needed variety. But Seabed is not an album of movement—it's stationary. And while it might be beautiful to gaze at momentarily, by the end of the record it's treading water.
02. Blue Again
04. Come On
05. Always Forever
06. California Analog Dream
09. Bananas (On My Biceps)
10. Outro 4 Ariel