Sea Oleena - Shallow
Shallow appears to point towards various aspects. Be it the slight self harm on the cover artwork or be it the music that is presented on this album. In either case it can be used to describe what is actually going on. This one word in the title indicates a state, something that is recognizable and maybe to some extent even measurable. Considering that either of these are prone to be watered in one way or another, due to these being things that are visible and therefore open to the realm of interpretation, it nevertheless opens a space in which a discourse is able to take place.
For arguments' sake let us examine the cover artwork in relation to this. Firstly, due to the definite focus on the arm, the finger and the blood, it marks a deviation from the blurred perspective that were present on the two releases prior to this one. Here we have a definite expression, a performance so to speak, whose depiction can be understood unmistakably and immediately. No translation needed. A cut. Blood. Pain. What is confusing though is the execution of this act, is this slight/negligible/minuscule spill of blood and the actual play with it; see the front and the back of the CD release. These small droplets moved around the finger, were possibly examined and granted some freedom. Yet it comes over as a comparably superfluous attempt, because not much is achieved by it. Imagine it being done in public, then the chances of receiving help might be influenced by the looks and gender of the person, who would stage such a performance. All in all though, this shallow deed would generally lead to not much harm and have little effect.
The same cannot be said of the music. The term shallow can be interpreted in various degrees here. Some may point to the overall conception of the music, others to the complexity. Both views are right and it is rather the aspect of establishing how this new setup of the music fits into the broader scheme of things. This is the part that is of some importance.
A striking aspect is how the release opens. First the continuous play of a chord by the piano, then the voice, then the tremolo of a violin and then the bass. What follows are electronic beats, a steady rhythm and a to and fro between the instruments. One might imagine that Sea Oleena is in the spirit of things and progresses somewhat similar to what had been presented on earlier releases. A bit different maybe, but still recognizable and of a similar atmosphere. This impression could not be more wrong and it is not nice to force the listener to experience a shift into a new direction, this drastic measure in exploring the music further and to cut off old strains so to speak. "If I'm", just by looking at the title of the track for a moment, implies the discussion of a possibility, the existence of a conflict and something that could be, but always with the chance of refraining from it. This is the part of the lyrics:
[...] if i'm a body you're a blanket on me if i'm a forest you're the field at my feet if i'm a corner that the dark backs into you're the darkness that this corner clings to if i'm a mountain with the moon above me i, the mountain, choose the moon to envy [...] if i'm gone
"Envy" is the word with which everything starts to fade out. While it hollows out into the distance, the music breaks down, the structure breaks down, the instrumentation breaks down and all of these elements do not make a reappearance anywhere on this album in this particular kind of way. Never. From thereon a new kind of musical style emerges. Ethereal might be one way to describe the sound that follows. Strangely enough, even though the words/phrase "if i'm gone", the closing phrase of the opener, has not yet been uttered, because we are still at that very moment in which all splits up into pieces, it somehow feels as if this shattering has already happened or if the listener does actually witness the process of the passing respectively the act of moving along. The condition is not more of a possibility but a fact that one not only has to endure but cannot stop it from happening. The inevitability of the fulfilment of the condition is intrinsic in the musical expression.
The succeeding eponymous track is of importance in order to understand this release and how its fit into the musical development of this band. It is this one whose task might be described as having to deal with the issue of properly setting the stage and to ameliorate the impact of the "passing" -- this word should be understood a bit more broadly -- and to build it all up again. "if i'm gone" marks a break, but it is unclear of what kind this is. Whether it is renewal or actual reawakening remains hidden. The music on the succeeding track "Shallow" comes over as if a considerable amount of force would be necessary to (re-)build up enough strength to express even the simplest of words. The play of the piano is vague, the vocals have a hollow sound and contain a lot of reverberation. Those first words are jumbled together, an incoherent mess so to speak. It takes a few seconds to disentangle them. From there onward the new version of Sea Oleena enters the stage and from there onward the new music progresses. Of what kind is this though?
Atmosphere over everything. An intimate setting. A soothing song by a siren. The track "Shallow" develops out of a minimalism of voice and piano into something in which there are even some short percussion elements that play along with the overall dominance of the piano and the vocals. Ambient with alternative music influences and vague rhythmic patterns is offered. Somehow the atmosphere has shifted and one might wonder whether this all-encompassing sadness will linger or whether there will be some kind of deviation in a different direction later on. One might argue that at least some kind of overall melancholy never ceases to have an impact on either of the tracks and tends to persist in the background throughout the rest of the album. One fixture, at least one fixture. "To Hold" feels rather pleasant, which is due to the play of the guitar and the lack of the piano. Its motifs are just a bunch of chords repeated over and over, while a bass adds some additional volume and atmosphere. Charlotte Oleena's voice hovers above everything. The excessive way in which she expresses the lyrics, aspirating them even, demands a certain level of attention and focus. Single words or even syllables appear stretched over the length of a few seconds, as she lures the listener into a realm of calmness and serenity. Sit back. Relax. Let all those pesky thoughts leave you for a moment and enjoy these fleeting sounds. Yet always with a speck of sadness.
"Shades of Golden" continues this way. Builds up upon it. Develops the concept even more. Not much, but a bit. There is still only the guitar and the piano remains absent. "Everyone With Eyes Closed" is even happier, because of the rather charming and sweet melody. Even the percussion elements are allowed to participate again. With "Vinton, LA" an amalgam of the earlier approaches, sans the first track, makes an appearance. 11:24 clocks this longest of all tracks on this release. Stylistically it can be divided into several parts. Some combine a mixture of piano and the vocals, sometimes other instruments are granted a shot and final moment of attention or recognition. Like waves all ebbs and flows along. This is also expressed by a certain motif of six successive notes that is played by the piano, but varied to some extent. Contrary to what had been said before about the piano, in this track moments of playfulness can be found. Guitars and layers of ambience close this last track. A gentle ending after a long and complex set of atmospheres and impressions.
"yours is a path i'd like to cross"
It ends with this. It hollows out. It ends with an offer or a proposal or a suggestion? This last sentence sums up the mood that appears to cut through this release. People, relationship, emotions, state of mind are some of the aspects that are dealt with throughout the music. Yet always shrouded in a mist of metaphors or analogies. This had been true of the previous albums and is true of this one. Nothing is clear cut in terms of this band. Nothing immediately accessible. An antidote to the ready-made consumer products of our days. If taken literally though, then the shallowness is expressed there to a considerably degree again. This blink of an eye, this vague impact is all that is allowed to be witnessed and experienced.
To sum it up:
With the first proper release presenting a palimpsest of visuals, flowers and an image of Charlotte Oleena, the second output has only the flowers left, while the third presents the effect of the rearrangement: a pricked finger. To leave things behind may demand a sacrifice, may demand some effort to pull through, while the overall outcome remains uncertain and unclear. The cover is a presentation of a factual definiteness, which has this touch of appellative communication with the listener/viewer: "Look what I have done", "Look what was necessary", "Feel with me, comfort me." This is what can be seen on the cover, this is what can be felt throughout the release. The visual imagery coincides with the underlying conceptual direction and it prepares the listener for the musical expression(s). Those who have followed the band over the years have to bear the fact and witness it -- first hand so to speak and literally as well as metaphorically -- that those day of playful tunes, those odd rhythmic patterns, the outré chimes are gone by and have been moved to the past. Sea Oleena's music has developed and this came at a price. And this price, let us take a dive into a cesspool filled to the brim with cliche now, has to be paid in blood.
By listening to the music and by experiencing the tunes, by letting it all flow and fill the room, it does not appear to be something that is expressed in the songs: shallow.
Note: The lyrics had been taken from the Bandcamp page and have not been corrected in any way.