Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Vondelpark - Seabed

People have been too quick to disregard Vondelpark as James Blake knock-offs. That may be uncanny, as Vondelpark have been recording and making music long before Blake's first release. Vondelpark are signed to R&S with label mate Blake, who has of course gone on to bigger things since releasing his EP's CMYK and Klavierwerke. The not quite as substantial Vondelpark EP's were also released by R&S, Sauna and nyc stuff and nyc bags - the latter being an incredible downtempo mix of r&b and ambient. Tracks "Camels" and "TV" introduced the listeners to a hazy and minimalistic British electronic trio. A powerful group who have the whole world of electronica at the end of their finger tips. In 2011 Vondelpark performed as Blake's support act. After I thanked them on their triumphant performance, the trio sounded bemused and showed gratitude. They never expected the rollercoaster ride of electronic fame, but the trio have found themselves a label that can take them the whole way. Debut album Seabed is the start of a new era for Vondelpark, an era they expect to control. 

Pre-release single "Dracula" was magnificent. The light synthesizers, vocal loops and a disturbing structure made for late night driving saw Vondelpark follow on from nyc stuff and nyc bags with more of the great minimalistic r&b. It turns out that "Dracula" imposed Vondelpark's ideas from both EP's with the mystery that shrouds the London trio. Seabed follows the pattern of UK garage / r&b with the ever so soothing ambience of Steve Reich. Opener "Quest" has all the ingredients of a rock band turned electronic. Vondelpark once dabbled in rock with Lion Club, slowly maturing with age in to their influences with today's Vondelpark. Imagine Radiohead's Amnesiac, however with Cocteau Twins dream pop soundscapes, this is "Quest", this is Seabed. Following track "Blue Again" quickly establishes the mood. A fast paced percussion works with a hauntingly beautiful synth line and Lewis Rainsbury's at ease vocal work. Listeners can feel the trickling soundscapes, like rain drops running down a misty window. The reverberated percussion is fantastic and exotic sounding with the early two chord synthesizer running wild.

The trio are in fact a band in the analogue age, with synthesizers among their hefty guitars / drums / bass instruments. Digital production has been applied and of course the computer makes its appearance as expected, but I’m making a point that Vondelpark are more than just beeps and bloops on Fruity Loops. Seabed's rendition of "California Analog Dream" is as close they'll get to soft rock perfection. Meanwhile, "Come On" shows off the beat making process and glitch like production. The synthesizer sounds are breaching the guitar notes with what appears to be a heavily effected vocal stab. Likewise with "Always Forever", a beautifully constructed track designed for late night driving. Soft vocals appear in a primitive form, as Rainsbury sings his fast paced, delayed vocal over a track of witch house. 

There’s a raw essence of beauty on Seabed. Vondelpark's debut album is somewhere in between Balam Acab's wonderful Wander/Wonder and Brian Eno's Another Green World. Take "Closer", a delicious acoustic track with melodic vocals: "Never getting off this rollercoaster, someday, some day," sings Rainsbury. Self-titled track "Seabed" is among the better tracks on the album due to its highly electric synth pattern and relaxing notion. Rainsbury's vocal is again hidden amidst a spectacular amount of reverb. 

Seabed doesn’t rely on the strength of its singles. The back half of the album is arguably the better side, featuring one of the best track names of the year, "Bananas (on my biceps)". This track is also Vondelpark's best use of sampling, taking Aretha Franklin's "Wonderful" and removing all aspects of soul to create a powerful drum 'n' bass track worthy of the digital dubstep age.

Vondelpark's debut album closes with "Outro 4 Ariel", mirroring the "Outro For nyc" from nyc stuff and nyc bags. That being said, "Outro 4 Ariel" sounds as if it belongs on nyc stuff and nyc bags. Rainsbury's deluded hazy vocals and a powerful synthesizer set on default create the light atmosphere for Seabed's closer. This track leaves the listener in a dream like manner, like much of the album. Seabed isn't designed for the club, in no way are Vondelpark influenced or leaning towards a dance craze. Their previous EP's and previous career as Lion Club are resolutions to the then emerging dance market. Vondelpark create their songs with a specific mood, audience and time in mind. Its late night, its summer, and it could even be winter, that doesn't matter. You're not going to be playing this on a Friday night birthday party, it's intended for privacy. Seabed is an album you can put on and drift away too. It's not at all boring, it's far from it. Vondelpark have released an album of sophisticated and relaxing electronic music for fans of Burial, Balam Acab and The XX. The mystery still surrounds Vondelpark as they go on into the darkness, yet as we listen to Seabed at midnight, we can't help but imagine the trio playing to a sunrise.
~Eddie Gibson


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