Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Seefeel – Seefeel (Warp)

One Steven Paul Jobs, everyone’s favourite Bond villain-a-like and all-inventing creator of things-we-didn’t-know-we-even-needed, is at least partly responsible for a good many changes in the way we as a society think. Some such changes are undoubtedly good things; for example, bestowing upon graphic designers the ability to do their work (because everyone knows that, despite the fact there are plenty of PCs out there the technical equal of your average MacBook, designers just can’t work on anything with a smug little ‘Start’ button staring out at them from the bottom-left). Some are unquestionably bad – no one, bar perhaps Alan Partridge, can make one more want to throw out a lovely new roll-neck in a fit of fashion-related self-doubting. And some are more of a mixed bag.

The iPod revolutionised the music world, and it’s clear we’re ostensibly the better off for it. But the portable music revolution, as in history’s other great leaps forward (the French; Industrial; number 9), was also responsible for a number of innocent casualties, with one glaring great sea of metaphorical aristocrats’ heads towering like a gory colossus above the rest – the long-playing album.

In this terrifying new century of instant individual song downloads, on-demand films and butter that’s somehow spreadable straight from the fridge, the poor, clapped-out old LP as a statement of artistic intent is in its death throes. Finding ourselves in a situation strangely reminiscent of the early 1960s, the single – or, rather, now, any track cherry-picked from an album or best of – again reigns supreme.

Which is why it’s so ridiculously refreshing when you do eventually hear an album like Seefeel’s Seefeel, crafted in the tradition of those mythical post-Sgt. Pepper days of yore when albums were created to be listened to from start-to-finish, and savoured like a real ale twat does his pint of freshly-poured Stagnant Puddle. There will be no singles lifted from Seefeel, because there are no singles to lift; it’s an unashamed 52-minute journey meant be digested as one cohesive whole. It’s just a crying shame that, musically, it isn’t a bit more listenable.
For a group who haven’t released an album in some fifteen years (excepting last year’s comeback EP Faults), Seefeel feels like surprisingly familiar territory. Continuing from almost exactly where the robotic shoegazers and Warp protégées originally called it quits in the mid-‘90s, Seefeel serves up more of the same trademark ambient minimalism and otherworldly, slowly-evolving soundscapes that first brought them to the prominence during that historic grey area that lie between the dance explosion of the late ‘80s and the impending ascendance of Britpop a few years later.

And yet, on first listen, it’s still a remarkably and unexpectedly disconcerting experience. Seefeel’s claustrophobic layers of hypnotic, looped guitars, droning synths and fat, dub-styled bass, processed and squeezed into distorted dissociation, combine to create a sonic collage that sounds unnervingly alien, and frequently non-human. Drums are sparse, boxy and unpredictable, and singer Sarah Peacock’s off-kilter, treated vocals wander in and out at random, as they do resembling uncannily the sound emanating from the turntable of an evangelical panicker looking for Satanic messages in a copy of Led Zeppelin II played backwards.

But it’s this lack of any human quality or warmth that proves to be the record’s undoing. Whereas the druggy weirdness of previous Seefeel outings – especially critics’ favourite and magnum opus Quique – sounded empathetic and inviting in a post-rave, giss’-a-hug kind of way, Seefeel is cold, metallic and distant; more K than E. In a way, it’s the aural equivalent of a relatively realistic blow-up doll; you can appreciate it superficially and aesthetically – love it even – but it doesn’t really matter. Because it’s dead inside, and it doesn’t and can’t love you back. You get the picture.

But, of course, none of that’s really very important. Is it a good album? Is it bad? Would I recommend it to a friend? Yes. Maybe. Probably. Who cares? Seefeel is a cohesive album as a piece of art, dammit, and it’s glorious! God save the LP! Viva la (counter-) revolución!

Words : Jon Chapple

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