Seabed (R&S Records)
Up to this point Vondelpark has felt like a slightly intangible and secret entity. Both their Sauna and nyc stuff and nyc bags EPs for R&S were passed along enthusiastically in hushed tones by those who heard them. The music carried the most exciting strands of
bedroom music; it sounded special, and at first it was almost impossible to tell where it had come from, or who. The band is made up of three childhood friends: Lewis Rainsbury (vocals, production, bass, guitar, keys), Alex Bailey (bass) and Matt Law (keys). Over the past couple of years the trio have developed their sound from those tentative first steps of Sauna into something that sounds excitingly bold and intuitive on their debut album, Seabed. Carefully growing their live show has certainly helped -- lending a satisfying groove and looseness to much of the new material.
With only two EPs to their name so far, you could say it's taken Vondelpark a long stretch of time to reach this point, but that time certainly hasn't been wasted. Indeed, an album might have surfaced a bit sooner had it not been for a particularly disruptive theft while in Amsterdam in 2011. Vondelpark were in the city for a show when their equipment was stolen, including a laptop with the only existing files for what was supposed to be Vondelpark's debut LP. They laugh about it now, often referring to Seabed as their second record. They even plan to return to the original set of songs from that lost album for whatever they record next.
The setback not only cost them equipment but time too, "two months doing nothing, smoking a lot," Rainsbury remembers. "It made us lose faith for about six months, but when we all got a flat together in London it felt natural to start jamming and recording again." The calming influence of their label R&S helped too, "they didn't panic, they've supported us all along and there's never been a lot of pressure to rush." In the end the record was spurred along by a sense of community as well - fellow London musicians pitched in to lend them gear they had lost, and longtime friend Will Archer a.k.a. Slime played saxophone on the record.
That, plus the dynamic fostered by living together in close quarters has led to a confident, exploratory debut record too. Rainsbury describes the recording process as quite insular, often spending days seeing no other people, "that's where the name comes from, we didn't feel like we existed in the real world, it felt like we were hiding in a seabed." That submerged atmosphere comes across on the album, replacing the airiness of Vondelpark's early bedroom recordings for something slightly grander, but still intensely inward-looking.
The biggest shift comes in the loose feel to some of these songs. On songs like "Dracula" it no longer sounds like the work of one person in a bedroom. Instead, there's a jammy, collaborative feel to the rhythms and playing, helping imbue the record with a real sense of life. That it took a few months to record also helps lend it a kind of lived-in, personal feel as well.
Seabed is ambitious, but also exists within a comfortable sonic world too. Pillowy textures and lush, romantic sounds run throughout the whole album. It makes for an inviting record to listen to, particularly in headphones. "It's supposed to be the ultimate bedroom listen," Rainsbury notes. "There's a lot of closure on the record, about feelings to do with being young and in love," he goes on, something clear from bittersweet tunes like "Come On" or the gorgeously yearning "Closer" where gentle vocals and pianos tap into something that sounds quite timeless.
"California Analog Dream" was a big highlight on Vondelpark's debut EP Sauna and appears again here. Tracing its sonic history feels like uncovering the story of the band that produced it too. On Sauna "California Analog Dream" was pushed along by a 2-step beat, tender guitar lines and faraway vocals. The blend was evocative and made for a heady bedroom-pop song. But the difference between that first recording and the one that appears on the record is marked. This time the guitars carry a sense of poise, while real drums replace the electronics of before -- there's even a harmonica line. On the song's initial version Rainsbury's voice kept you at arms length. On Seabed his vocal take draws you in, feeling magnetic and intense. It's on this song in particular that you can really mark the changes that Vondelpark have been through over the past 18 months of recording. Lewis Rainsbury describes Seabed as a coming of age album, and that's something that could just as easily apply to the impressive transformation that Vondelpark have made during its conception.
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