The most confusing thing about Seoul’s (if not highly-anticipated, at least long-awaited) debut LP is how such a smooth sound ever came out of Montreal, QC. The city, known better for its avant-garde arts community than its London-esque pop beats, has produced something of a cultural oddity in the indie-pop trio Seoul.
“Lush” is the description for each of I Became A Shade’s 12 tracks, an inescapable air of staccato U2-inspired guitar echoes, glassy piano hits and laid-back, reverb-laden drums. The serenity in tracks like “Real June” is obviously meant to capitalize on the slacker-pop summer sales market, but it’s hard to imagine any of the trio’s songs being anything more than chilly. Well-produced, if predictably so, shimmering trails fall off the back of each guitar lick and synth note, leaving very little dead space on the record’s running time. Lyrics are murmured like bedtime promises or daydreamt ramblings.
The album is broken up by a handful of minute-long interludes: “Fields”, “Thought You Were”, and “Carrying Home Food In Winter”. They are disappointingly never elaborated on, as each instrumental piece is but a tantalizing sketch instead of a fleshed-out reality, although they do help to break up the otherwise beat-oriented record. The (artificial) crackling of a needle on old vinyl marks and scratches against looped improvisations and bubbly household sounds in a way that recalls Kevin Drew’s early recording project KC Accidental.
I Became A Shade will be favourably compared to electronic acts like Baths and Toro y Moi, but the likeness ends at a shared preference between the three for restraining their vocalists and appealing to the fans hanging on to the chillwave genre. Near the end of Shade, “Silencer” stands out for its attentive bass-line and it’s impressively grandiose, volumetric finale. Ultimately, though, there’s nothing particularly endearing about the record as a whole. For songs that have been circulating since 2013, there’s just not enough substance to Seoul to justify more than a once-over, which is frustrating. Buried in the delicate production and obvious affectation for effects, it’s obvious there’s something more buried behind the trio than lazy pop songs and hazy veil of reverb, but what that is hasn’t surfaced quite yet.