Monday, March 31, 2008

The Ghost That Carried Us Away - Seabear

The Ghost that Carried Us Away

Morr Music.

SCQ Rating: 66%

If you’re looking for some new twee-electronic records to buy, go check out Morr Music; not only can you sample some of the German label’s latest releases, you can read hilarious press kits that inflate these albums with ludicrous proclamations. As the prominent label continues to enlist more varied, less electronic artists, Seabear (AKA Sindri Mar Sigfusson) has been the latest success story. And according to Morr Music, that story boasts how Seabear is what happens when Sufjan Stevens meets Sigur Ros. Mmhmm. Because I’m rather accommodating, I can hear that Sigfusson’s voice sounds a dimension shy of Sufjan’s and because I have a map, I can prove that Seabear and Sigur Ros both live in Iceland. Beyond those points, Seabear lacks the grandeur, emotion and sense of risk that creates truly original music. None of this is to imply that The Ghost That Carried Us Away is a bad record… it just isn’t deserving of comparisons to such renowned company.

Enough demythologizing for one day. What Seabear does have is a talent for writing simple folk songs that sound all-encompassing. A simple percussion loop offers a lively pulse to the few uptempo tracks – ‘Libraries’ and ‘I Sing I Swim’ – while spirited violins flutter throughout. The giant shadows behind these humble tunes are the arrangements, which carry the songs when the writing cannot. The problem with Seabear’s debut is that it’s easy for me to stop paying attention, and here’s why: Sigfusson’s vocals have no variation. He never gets excited, soulful or upset so scratch urgency, scratch drama, scratch emotion. That last one is particularly upsetting because this record deserves emotion; its lyrics and music are full of it, but Sigfusson has little to give. I’m not looking for showmanship so much as a voice that doesn’t sound bored with its muse.

It’s on a select few slow songs, like ‘Hands Remember’, where Sigfusson’s trance-inducing tone actually compels. ‘Lost Watch’ is where Seabear ropes all these familiar and warm instruments into something unique; a painfully slow guitar plucking under electronic keyboard, a soft banjo, and pitch-shifted vocals lost into the mix. The longest song on the record and possibly the best, ‘Lost Watch’ is a gorgeous slab of melancholy that, unlike much of The Ghost That Carried Us Away, feels unhinged by tight melody or percussion and could float away at any moment. Unfortunately its neighbouring songs aren’t doing any favours, as they are just as slow-paced but without the enticing atmosphere.

These arrangements actually do a great job of covering how played his melodies are; some of which are so familiar they feel publicly owned instead of lifted from one particular artist. The chords of ‘Seashell’ sound identical in time signature and progression as at least three other songs I know. Maybe that’s why the whole record feels so comfortable. Undoubtedly pretty and with several enjoyable moments, The Ghost That Carried Us Away remains a slight disappointment. Despite the earthy instrumentation and folky vibes, Seabear manages to sound sterile by never stepping outside of a safe melody’s comfort zone. An artist worth keeping tabs on… just don’t believe the hype.

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