When I think of Asthmatic Kitty, my ears immediately conjure sounds of organic acoustic guitars, beautiful harmonies, and, of course, banjos. Artists like Sufjan Stevens, DM Stith, and The Welcome Wagon all come to mind, but the label’s newest release from Epstein borrows little from the label’s pedigree. Sealess See is instead an MPC and synthesizer enraged output that borrows from plenty of modern sources, landing somewhere between electronica and trip-hop. It’s actually comical reading the press release for the album. Each paragraph is littered with today’s buzz-words (“tropical,” “Brooklyn,” “psych,” “landscapes,” “beachy”), and at one point, the album is even described as “Panda Bearian.” It is not the fact that these comparisons or descriptions are unwarranted that is upsetting; it’s that an album this spectacular can be drowned under the weight of indie music’s expectations and modern tropes.
Listen to “Seashells And Starfish” – DOWNLOAD MP3
Sealess See triumphs because of its cohesive nature as an album. Each short track, seventeen in all, sounds unique unto itself, but a listen to that same track within the album presents a different experience. “Seashells and Starfish” is a booming clash of synthesizers and analog noise, certainly the most hip-hop inspired track on the album. As a single, it is completely entertaining and makes my head nod with every play, but hearing the song while playing through the entire album yields a different result. As the synthesizers skip at the end of “Seashells and Starfish” like the record is broken, the next track “Current Stream” begins immediately. No fading, no pausing. But the acoustic guitar at the beginning of “Current Stream” plays the same notes over and over just as the keys on “Seashells and Starfish” had. So the pattern between the two tracks remains, but the medium changes. The trick is accomplished so smoothly, however, that you barely notice the difference, and Sealess See carries on like this throughout its entirety.
Sure, Epstein might be trying too hard to be Fuck Buttons, Wavves, Surfer Blood, or Animal Collective (all bands mentioned in the press release), but this album deserves better than trite comparisons to other bands. Sealess See is an engaging instrumental album that sadly ends just when you think it is taking off. If Epstein could have expanded on the ideas explored in each track instead of frantically piecing together seventeen different ones, this album would have been truly great. Albeit short-lived, Sealess See‘s thrills are definitely worth your time.