Seekonk: Pinkwood 2

Return 2 Pinkwood

The once and future Seekonk

Seekonk’s web site has been abandoned and is now a home for spam. They haven’t played a show this year [this was originally written in 2008]. Northeast Indie, the label that in 2005 put out the band’s last album, Pinkwood, has also lost its internet presence and is no longer an active label (though I bet Paul Agnew still has a few discs available for sale should you want to track him down).

Heck, the Seekonk album Burst & Bloom released this week, Pinkwood 2, was originally released two years ago and was in the can a year before that.

Why should anyone care?

Maybe we’re not collectively that cynical yet. As artistically satisfying as it was for Seekonk to release Pinkwood 2 originally as a limited run of 100 pieces of vinyl, they really were depriving the larger populace of a fairly grand musical experience. Now, thanks to Burst & Bloom (it’s a limited run of 100 CDs this time around, but they’ll make more if you buy them, I’m fairly certain), there’s a whole new opportunity to experience a gifted band at the height of their powers.

Described often as slo-core, or even orchestral indie, it’s true they share an aesthetic with Low or Mazzy Star at times, but even if this band were doing nothing but covers, I suspect they’d be worth listening to. Each note is so carefully chosen, placed, and positioned. Seekonk offer such a whole and inclusive world in which to reside. Their sound fits effortlessly into that sweet spot of familiar and brand-new.

Is it the pacing that makes a Seekonk song? No. “For a Reason,” with a digital effect like a UFO landing and taking off, is downright manic in its beat, with xylophone like drops of water off the trees onto the roof an hour after the thunderstorm ended. By the finish it’s a straight-up head-nodder.

Seekonk are more than a quiet band to get moody to.

Perhaps what they do best is challenge expectations. They open Pinkwood 2 with “The Rage,” a song that ironically begins lushly and gently, with pinging xylophone and Sarah Ramey’s breathy vocals assuring, “it’s nice to meet you.”

You find the rage, but only if you keep looking. What is rage when you don’t seem to know what aggression is?

Maybe it’s in the digital whirring that purposely mars the pop sensibility with a touch of discord, just as the band throw in sour notes as though to keep things from getting too pretty. “Take the records off the shelf,” Ramey implores, “throw them away.” Only a band this confident would bring in this late-song electric guitar riff, before quickly taking it away.

There are bands that would craft whole songs from that riff. For Seekonk, it’s a passing fancy, the type of thing Pat Corrigan or Todd Hutchisen seem to effortlessly dream up.

“Half Moon,” a good stand in for the essence of Seekonk, is methodical without being plodding, delicate and serene. To the fore is an acoustic guitar strum, a keyboard mirroring the vocal melody, but there’s a sheen of feedback and screeching that’s just out of earshot, as though there were traffic in the background as you listened to the song on the bus with your earphones in.

Around the four-minute mark the drums enter and add a sense of urgency, ramping the song up into a full-blown indie rock tune, crashing about and active like the Walkmen (whose new Lisbon is a kissing cousin to this disc in many ways).

They can strut and bounce, too. The vibraphone and brushes on the snare in “38. Special” amble and shuffle, while the lyrics and delivery suggest something darker. This song, more than any of the eight here, make you wonder what would happen if the band took the governor off.

Not that they’re the type of band to be constrained by genre. They move, in “Breakfast at Noon” and later in “Hills of Pennsylvania,” toward an alt-country vibe, mixing in pedal steel and a twang you can feel in your gut. In “Noon,” Jason Ingalls’ crisp snare is mixed perfectly by Jonathan Wyman, a support structure for Ramey’s best vocals of the disc, rising for once into full body at the 3:30 mark.

But Seekonk won’t be predictable or easy. The shuffling Texas beat of “Hills,” heavy in low-end guitar, with competing melody lines, shifts suddenly to a Latin beat, active, which itself is in contrast to the hovering vocals, which never sound less than half asleep.

That’s part of their sound, of course, but I do find myself wishing Ramey would finish off a few more lyrics, instead of living on initial consonant and vowel sounds. A few glottal stops here and there and I might catch a bit more meaning.

This isn’t a lyrics band, though, and Ramey’s voice is as much a part of the instrumental construction as it is a mode of meaning delivery. In the crisp “Waking,” a gorgeous construction of delicate guitar and xylophone, she repeats “right about now” until it’s poppy and uplifting, before backwards-played mutterings enter to haunt the song’s finish.

That nagging sense of doubt is the album’s heart. It is the conscience we battle to both ignore and satisfy, the ugliness we seek to dispel but can’t live without.

Jeff Beam: Is Believed To Have Been

Be, being, Been

Something to think about from Jeff Beam

Jeff Beam’s music is something of a luxury. After you’ve acquired all the music you need for car rides and doing work and having parties and working out, then there is space for Beam.

Existing in a bit of space-time on the outskirts of the Flaming Lips and in the near orbit of Wilco’s Foxtrot/Ghost phase, Beam delivers on his promise of psych rock yet again (I’ve lost count of his releases, frankly, but I think this is the sixth full-length, plus a covers album) with the dreamy Is Believed To Have Been, an album just as mixed up between the perfect infinitive and the simple past as its title would indicate.

First there is Beam’s voice, mostly as it’s always been, perhaps more refined. Heavily reverbed, high but not quite falsetto, it’s never particularly melodic, holding onto notes for long periods of time and elongating words so that their timing warps their meaning and renders them nearly meaningless. If you can make them out.

Beam seems to like words, used to enjoy a pun in his track names, but I’m not sure they’re the point this time around.

Maybe just live inside the instrumental title track awhile, surfing the repeating bass and guitar twirl filled with minor, accompanied by a gentle windmill guitar. It’s a jam with keyboards from Jaw Gems’ Ahmad Hassan Muhammad, like someone’s told Phish they absolutely must NOT crescendo, and it drifts like incense, wrapping around your head and sometimes a bit cloying, but generally quite pleasant.

As it bleeds into “Revival Song,” still no vocals, it’s hard not to get a little jazzed up. Maybe it’s not a Phish high, but people might start more than swaying if seeing it live. Beam is great at the bass thrum, the low-end drive, but don’t go in there impatient.

And get a book out. Have a drink. Settle in. Listen in and then tune it out. One song bleeds into another. Not a single chorus will trouble you for a singalong.

The opening “Human Clouds” is playfully industrial, with bells clanging, but the bass is a repeating drone that anchors everything. Maybe it leaves. Maybe it’s just a bit of tinnitus it’s left me with, hanging around like that sun spot on your eye when you look at your phone in the dark. “Wholed” replaces the bells with congas and then does a Ravi Shankar thing (though the sitar is actually on “Cherryfield”), like the Beatles on drugs.

“Everyone at the Same Time” is more like a Ringo tune, with augmented vocals from Kyle Gervais and fellow psych-rocker Dominic Lavoie, and gives the bass a riff to bounce like the soundtrack to Spyhunter. The descending keyboard is a melancholy walk down the street.  “Auspicious Minds” has more of a drive to it, a forward lean, though the vocals are just as dreamy as ever, creating a little counterbalance. There’s some of that guitar Spoon might use, but without the strut or the punch. Beam never struts or punches. Really, there’s almost zero bravado at all. But neither is he delicate like a Sufjan Stephens or a Father John Misty.

Which is also because he’s not precious either. There’s more of a choral quality to it, an early gospel maybe, a lamentation or a light dirge. Beam’s certainly never in a hurry. The ukulele at the beginning of “Cherryfield” isn’t the only hint of islands and beaches and a lazy sun: “It’s one thousand degrees/ No one can breathe.” The repeating acoustic guitar ought to remind you quite a bit of “Still Can’t Find My Way Home” if you’re at all a fan of classic rock.

To even have a chance of appreciating it, you’ve got to get yourself to slow down with it. Wait for Beam to roll it out in front of you. Fire one up. Think big thoughts. Embrace the strings and keyboards and muted bass of “Clairvoyance,” as physical as it is audible and find yourself “slowly drifting toward the light.”