Love M83, particularly Dead Cities…, but not too into the extreme side of their ’80’s pop influence? Then you’d love Sea When Absent. It lacks a bit of sonic variety – every single track in this unrelenting onslaught of pop is in a major key. Still, it’s hard to not get behind it, unless you can’t stand pretentiously long, parenthetical song titles, or lyrical childlike wonder.
The basic formula behind Sea When Absent is a layer cake of airy lyrics and vocal melodies echoing over each other in a sort of round, supported by very weighty grooves and timbres, and grooves with washy drums. The opener “Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End)” is almost completely climax, with nonstop snare drums much like M83’s “Run Into Flowers,” but without any pesky buildups to wait for (and replacing M83’s “chemical” drug references with the aforementioned naivete): [LISTEN]
Have you ever thought how long we’d be/If we never ever went to school/If we never learned how not to be/If we never were gonna die?
However, they stray slightly from this formula on “Crushin‘,” [LISTEN] which is one of the first tracks in recent memory to do the whole indie-R&B thing without blatantly copping 90’s R&B production techniques or faux-black vocal affectations (looking at you, How to Dress Well). The guitar solo on that track is a bit weak, but the cynical refrain – “that’s all that love is” – does the positive sonics meets apathetic lyrics trope quite well.
To continue the M83 comparison – this record’s lyrics are simpler and more straightforward, but do the job. Lines like “I belong to you, you belong to me” may be duds, but other lines only slightly more sophisticated fit perfectly. The beefy music doesn’t need any more density from the vocalists’ pens.
As for the album’s flaws – one’s ears do begin to fatigue not from the dense noise, but from the nonstop major keys. The worst offender is the final track, which sounds like a collab between a tamer Skrillex, Katy Perry, and Kanye West. It’s too damn pop for its own good and should probably be skipped.
Overall, the record is great – albeit super sugary, save for the occasional lyrical barb. Mostly it’s puppy-love oriented with some suburban melodrama attached, sitting on a musical bed of unabashed joy that would make The Polyphonic Spree blush if not for the noise production twist.