Seefeel (2011)

Seefeel (2011)

by Phil H

Seefeel (2011)

Such was my enthusiasm for Seefeel's 1993 debut LP, Quique, that I once spent five minutes of interview time trying to convince Noel Gallagher of its worth.

After listening to me rabbit on about how rather than the usual chords, solos or verse/chorus, the guitars were all sampled, phased and generally smothered in effects while being smeared around an ambient techno undercarriage and seasoned with a sprinkling of dub, Noel asked: 'So they're a shoegaze band?' He then tried to convince me of the charms of Grant Lee Buffalo's Fuzzy album - I don't think either of us came away convinced.

Noel's reaction was far from unusual at the time and Seefeel's response to such negative pigeonholing (the rapturous enthusiasm that greeted Slowdive's early EP's in 1991 was a world away by 1994, with grunge and Britpop now in the ascendancy) was to abandon uber-indie imprint Too Pure to shack up with Warp and ingest a large amount of new label-mates Aphex Twin and Autechre's mangled electronica.

Their original USP of those molten motorik guitars got rather shoved to one side and their two subsequent LPs were far darker, more fractured affairs, lacking the blissful dreamy throb of Quique.

By the time I got to interview Seefeel when they supported Spiritualized in Manchester in late 1994, their was already a hint of tension in the air between the band. Guitarist/primary songwriter Mark Clifford did most of the talking while singer Sarah Peacock, bassist Daren Seymour and drummer Justin Fletcher sat on the other side of the room. It was all very civilized and Clifford was careful to parcel out praise to all corners but the joy seemed to be ebbing away.

Seefeel stopped touring after 1995's Succour LP and wound down altogether shortly after 1996's Ch-Vox, with Clifford heading off on his own as Disjecta and launching his Polyfusia label, while the rest of the band released a trio of albums as Scala.

Quique may not have sold many copies (in 2004, Clifford claimed total sales were around the 17,000 mark, approx 1,500 per year since its release) but it made a lasting impression with those who did hear it, even being used as a birthing soundtrack and a teaching aid for autistic children. A 2-CD reissue in 2007 drew glowing reviews and the band agreed to play a one-off gig to mark Warp's 20th anniversary, sparking the decision to record together again.

Last year's Faults EP has now been followed by a full album, with Peacock and Clifford drafting in former Boredoms drummer Iida Kazuhisa and bassist Shigeru Ishihara, previously known for making Game Boy-sampling hardcore gabba as DJ Scotch Egg and a sure sign that the band have no plans to head off in a more mainstream direction.

Having made the decision to move away from guitar-based music after Quique due to their dislike of the shoegaze label, Clifford has now thankfully returned to what made them stand out in the first place. Not that Seefeel sounds like Quique 2, far from it in fact. Those Aphex Twin and Autechre influences now feel fully absorbed into the band's sound, taking Clifford's guitar and Ishihara's bass in ever more bizarre and twisted directions. Perhaps the technology has just caught up with what Clifford wanted to do back in 1995.

The embryonic ambience that ran through Quique still lurks but is counterbalanced by endless variety of grittier, distorted, decaying sounds that have been wrung out these most conventional of rock instruments. Slow squalls of feedback and distortion unfurl like strange flowers, but the sometimes harsh noises never actually descend into ugliness, anger or frustration. The band still sound strangely dreamy, seemingly intent on seeing how far they can push this sound without it collapsing into unpleasantness.

Faults (revived from last year's EP), Rip-Run and Making all sound like tracks that were recorded for Quique and have spent the last 18 years stuck in an airing cupboard, slowly warping from the heat. Where songs would ebb and flow they now seem to swim in and out of focus, smeared with abstract blobs of sound.

Peacock has moved further forward in the mix than at any time during their original incarnation, even if you can rarely make out any words. When she distinctly sings the phrase 'Is everything clear?' on Airless you have to suspect her tongue is stuck firmly in her cheek. She also sounds more like Slowdive's Rachel Goswell than ever before, a comparison they'd have run a mile from back in 1994 but not such an issue nowadays.

Dead Guitars probably sets out the Seefeel 2011 agenda most clearly, with Clifford and Ishihara coercing their instruments into all manner of feedback, distortion, sighs, screechs and whispers, all set to Kazuhisa's plodding beat (much of his playing on the album is so minimalist it manages to make Mo Tucker sound like Lars Ulrich) and Peacock's drifting vocal, which never actually coheres into lyrics but still sweetens the pot considerably.

The longer tunes are peppered with 4 shorter song sketches that help to vary the mood. Album opener O-on One and companion pieces Step Up/Step Down are Clifford solo efforts, blowing up drifting clouds of feedback and echo-drenched sweetness. Gzaug starts out with strange itchy little sounds scurrying about, before drifting into Enoesque ambience.

The album closes with 3 long songs that grow ever more spaced out, giving the impression of slowly decaying into silence. Airless circles round on itself, Peacock's vocal failing to make anything clearer with each repetition, before Aug30 disconcerts with its mix of slow ambient washes and feedback squeals. Closer Sway takes a trip to the echo chamber, as Clifford's swerving guitar zigzags through Peacock's hazy sighs and Ishihara's distorted bass throb. Those itchy little sounds from Gzaug return before it slowly descends into a crackling buzz, sounding like those guitars have finally died after all.

This feels like the album Seefeel should have made after Quique. It may have taken 18 years to get there but it's well worth the wait..
Phil H.