As much as I love good old fashioned noisy sonic assaults, the transition from the brutal Austin summer to its beautiful fall tends to make me skew towards breezy pop, records you can put on and be comforted by. Coming from the Bay Area, The Seshen surely know a thing or two about that autumnal feeling, or at least that’s the sense I get from their Tru Thoughts debut Unravel, spotlighting as it does the seven piece’s knack for full bodied but relaxed vocals and simmering electronics that warm you up like evening tea. By no means a simple work, Unravel is nonetheless chill in its layer unraveling, asking you to return to it at your leisure, exploring the countless levels of the instrumentation and arrangements as you see fit. It’s a work that wraps snugly around you and gains repeated listens by not coming on too strong.
Much of Unravel’s comforting qualities are the result of the tandem vocals of Akasha Orr and Lalin St Juste, who posses significant technical prowess but prefer to use their skills to enhance the overall vibe of the record rather than steal the spotlight outright. You can perhaps hear that best in “Shapes,” where their vocals are first introduced as chopped and screwed samples stacked on top of an explosion of sounds that has itself emerged from a bell synth fake out intro. When the verse truly starts, the vocals become more identifiable but also more malleable, each line’s end note dragged out like a morning sigh. Chris Thalmann’s manic drumming is left to do all the flourishes, the synths dialing back to give the song more room for the contrast of his breakbeats and the laid back vocals. There’s a hint of Santigold to The Seshen’s style, but this is a larger, twistier sound– you can still dance to it, it’s still got plenty of hooks, but it benefits from digesting it at a slower pace.
The Santigold connection is a little clearer on the tracks where Thalmann’s beats are simpler, like the EP’s title track, which rocks a big, boomy dance floor sound flanked by polyrhythmic snaps and clicks. The chorus also features the kind of hiccupy melody that made singles like “L.E.S. Artistes” so iconic, but with the added bonus of a Jenga stack of synths doing subtle sleights of hand, each teasing out a potential counter melody. Things are weirder in moments like “Turn,” though, beginning with its dusty folk throwback start and continuing with its transformation into a futurist house track. “Turn” shifts disguises at a frenetic yet oddly comforting pace, introducing trip-hop and dubstep elements in its chorus but in a manner that’s so organic you don’t think of how odd that recipe should be until it’s already consumed.
The Seshen can also handle more straightforward pop, though, as “Oblivion” attests. Mixing addictive hand claps, a chirpy 8bit synth and the most unabashedly commercial vocal on the EP, “Oblivion” is The Seshen aiming squarely for the charts and succeeding at their pop ploy. It’s not that the track is formulaic or pap, it’s just thrillingly ambitious and impeccably crafted, a gleaming offering of the band’s most palatable elements. On the opposite end of that, though, is “The Fall,” an equally pop baiting track that hits its mark and comes across as a little too formulaic. There are some nice synth lines, but the vocal feels a little too subdued and the track’s tone on the whole is too much like a sappy club floor ballad. It’s the one song on the EP where it isn’t abundantly clear the band isn’t enjoying themselves and it suffers for that.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover