Sea Oleena - Weaving a Basket
What had started on the previous release Shallow, has continued on this one: a progression towards minimalism and a step away from the use of percussion or rhythmic elements. Interestingly though, the title might actually indicate a step in a different direction. A direction in which all would become wholesome or even full circle. This is not only indicated by the artefact "basket" -- an artefact to put things into --, but also in the way this is crafted. It is made of single strains that are woven together in a somewhat predictable pattern. In the end a container is created that is able to hold some kind of material or good; be it edible or non-edible ones. Leaving this aspect aside, the act of crafting such a piece points towards a technique that can be found on all inhabited continents, which makes the aspect of weaving a basket something known in all/most cultures. If this vessel is created by single strains that by a certain type of manufacturing process are brought together, then the question arises whether these can be found in the tracks and their (peculiar kind of) music.
By default weaving a basket requires only a small set of elements or tools. No grand set of machinery is needed. Patience and goods of a certain quality are the prerequisite. The rest is skill and an idea on what to create. This is the reason it is also used for therapeutic purposes. But how does the music on this release fit into this? Let us start with the cover artwork again. It is possible to read something into it, especially considering the development this band has taken. We are back into the realm of blurriness. This time though it is a group of water birds that fills up the cover. A grey geese, a mute swan, a coot and various types of gulls. One gull is the centre of an otherwise calm scenery and this one, along with another one behind it, adds movement and energy to it; an energy that is not focussed but can be chaotic and unpredictable. Does this frozen impetus have an impact on the music? Is this idea of flying a metaphor for liberation and freedom or of breaking one's chain represented in the sounds on this release? Interestingly enough, the album still contains seven tracks. This is something all of Sea Oleena's main releases at Bandcamp have in common.
The way "Will I Know" opens the album is slightly bewildering, because it takes you back to the previous release "Shallow" and its eponymous track. While it clearly differs, some similarities can nevertheless be made out. The same way of building up energy and of attempting to set the mood right. This time though the piano has less of the melancholic touch, while the vocals have a different sound and set up a different kind of atmosphere. In some respect this track and even more so the last one "Horses" are bewildering due to the way their elements have been arranged. In either case a strange impression of field recording imposes itself unto the listener. The slight hollow sound, the motif itself and how it fits into the scheme of the introduction of this album leaves one confused. It feels detached. Not much, but slightly. The music does not get simpler after that.
A rather curious track is the second one, Calvisius. For once it is or creates the impression to be an instrumental one. Furthermore, the Latin name does not reveal its meaning readily and point to a well known historical figure, because a lot of people might have used this name in the past. While there would be someone with such a name, Sethus Calvisius, and even though he had something to do with music, it is difficult to put his late Renaissance approach and the one by Sea Oleena in one basket. Well, we need to pick another strain, then. Meet Lucius Calvenus Taurus. Why? Bear with me on this one. His other name is Calvisius Taurus. One part coincides with the track title, but most of you would instantaneously object to this, because the mere fact that such a similarity exists, does not explain everything. And you would be right. The thing is that on the Bandcamp page of Sea Oleena, Charlotte Oleena, the sole person behind this band, had added the word taurus to the profile, which means that we have both of the words of the name. Still sceptical? Another argument can be brought forth. According to Wikipedia "All of Taurus's works are lost, except for some fragments of his commentaries on Timaeus and the Republic" (highlighting theirs). Remember, this is an instrumental track and there are no words, because they have been lost. All that can be heard are vague ethereal vocal expressions, whose style could be described, with keeping all of the above in mind, as distant memories of the past. Something still present, but not really discernable. A vague shadow haunts this track and it is evoked by the ethereal voice of Charlotte Oleena.
The other tracks are less extreme or rather less minimalist, but they deviate considerably in style and sound from the ones on previous recordings. One might suspect that the music is rather easy-going and accessible, considering the topic of this recording, but this is actually not the case. While it may invoke a state of relaxation, the lack of real contrasts, the limitation to a small set of layers, may reflect on the idea of strains and how each of the tracks would weave a part into the whole set. The atmosphere appears to have been the main focus when crafting this recording and somehow the layers of sounds cancel each other out, whereby some residue remains, whose incomprehensible amalgam is not easy to digest; "Carrying". The tracks three to six are all drowning to various degrees in this pit and even though there are some variation, they are somewhat negligible. The playing of the guitar is minimalist, the vocals are always the same and bereft of any sense of dynamics and the background effects are there and nothing more.
This impression of something distant, of something difficult to grasp and to deal with has increased in impact compared with the previous release. The setting is more minimalist here, has a stronger sense of intimacy and less of diversion. While additional facets like textures remain to have an impact, their place is now rather in the background and kept at bay. A well construed set of arrangements is what can be found throughout the album. Each of the tracks has a distinct set of elements and sounds, while the general approach never leaves a certain boundary. As if all has to be kept in a basket, a confined space so to speak. Nevertheless, at times and especially towards the end, the sounds are confusing and rather strange. Careless, at times even nonchalant is how the music comes over. The odd way of playing the guitar in "Carrying" as well as in "Horses" adds to this and is more than just bewildering. Weaving a basket? At times it sounds as if there are attempts made in deconstructing it. As well as if certain parts of songs would spread out and cannot be brought back into order.
In some respect this release fulfils at last what had been promised on the preceding output "Shallow". The complexity is gone, certain instruments have vanished, while layers of sounds and samples have been added. What is a somewhat bothersome facet of this release is the utter disregard for variation in the concept. Round and round it goes. Another spin, another one and another one. Nothing of the daringness of earlier releases is there, no clear counterpoints, just an endless droning of sounds. Of course it is not fair to reduce the argument to this level and especially the end of "Gardens" differs from the other tracks and so does "Lost Song", but it feels artificial due to the similarity in the way this addendum had been placed. A suffix and nothing more.
The cover depicts a fleeting moment, a kind generally ignored or cast aside for being trivial and of little importance. Banal would be one way to describe it. Unless something outré occurs, the brain would hardly find it appropriate to store it for future use and all these impressions are destined to fade into oblivion. Sadly, part of the music feels like this as well.