Wednesday, November 21, 2007

seabear, 'the ghost that carried us away' review

I'm in deep mourning for the summer at the moment, feeling resentful at the grey skies and downright furious about the cold, so it's a pleasure to be able to endorse a record like Seabear's endlessly warm and glowing 'The Ghost That Carried Us Away', which is a positive antidote to the encroaching darkness. I've been listening to it a lot these last couple of months, having picked it up on a whim on my only visit to the new Rough Trade shop in Brick Lane, and felt a review was due, not least because I'm assuredly not the only one feeling dispirited by the changing of the seasons.

Seabear, who hail from the musically adventurous and productive hotbed of talent which is Iceland's Reykjavik, have created a charming folk-pop record which rings with warm acoustic guitars, brushed snares, pianos, glockenspiels and strings. It doesn't make me think of summer, in fact, but rather calls to mind those bright but chilly autumn days when everything seems to be enveloped in a rich red-brown saturated glow. Sindri Mar Sigfusson, who leads the seven-piece, possesses one of those dreamy, gentle voices which blends perfectly with music which seems somehow both supremely contented and yet delicately mournful.

Second song 'Cat Piano' is the first hint at something really special; a gorgeous love song which glides by on a bed of banjos, harmonica and glockenspiel, while Sindri coos "some nights I swear there was magic in the air". 'Libraries', which follows it, is more upbeat, dominated by a vibrant drumbeat, but no less romantic, positively dripping with stunning melodies and pastoral imagery, all "rabbit holes" and "salty sea". The key lyric is adorable and sad, provided you can cope with a little cutesy;

"My little bird flew away from me,
She made her home in a broken tree.
You're breaking branches on your way down
To someone new to throw your arms around".

The LP's key track follows (and yes, the album is, sadly, a little front loaded) - 'Hospital Bed' is a work of delicate, downbeat loveliness, and continues the vein of imagery which recalls the beauty and strangeness of nature ("so grab on hold to the spider's neck and ride out of town"). A couple of minutes in the song explodes with a crisp beat and a stunning Americana string arrangement. A sleepy Sindri seems hardly to have noticed, whispering "like a rabbit in a human-skin coat, you'll dance in the yard". No idea what he's on about, but the effect is exhilarating. I'm a sentimental sort so it's no surprise to find my throat catching as the song spirals to it's delicately-wrought instrumental conclusion.

Thematically and musically, it's hard to tell a lot of the songs apart on this record. Only the pause separating 'Hospital Bed' and the wistful 'Hands Remember' persuades me that I'm listening to two different songs, but that shouldn't undermine the beauty of either; the latter track retains the sweeping strings and elegiac tone, as well as a moment of soppy sentimentality when Sindri croons "I can't wait to feel brand new, I can't wait to meet you again... friend". 'I Sing I Swim' recalls the ultra-melodious songwriting of Belle and Sebastian and delivers an ominous lyric, given how I feel about this record; "make way for winter's eerie glow".

'Owl Waltz' heralds the arrival of a more subdued tone, and the second half of the album suggests that the band have responded to the soporific demands of their own songs. Album closer 'Seashell' picks up the pace a little bit, providing an upbeat close to a record mostly content to sit and stare at the red-skied horizon. One hopes that for subsequent releases Seabear will consider setting themselves more varied challenges, but this veiled criticism belies the fact that 'The Ghost That Carried Us Away' is one of the brightest, best realised records of the year. Recommended.

1 comment:

Powerful Pierre said...

Seabear are supporting Mum at the Concorde on 10 Dec if you're interested.