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REVIEW: Seldom: Romance
8.4.2002 by Sean

Seldom : Romance [Casa Recording Co, 2002]

Three words? Waltzes at midnight.

Sometimes the trees are wagging in the dusk light, a hot hot wind is trudging up the veranda steps, and the sky is red-purple. It smells of thick, dark caramel. A kid zips by on a scooter. It's August.

This is the music of Seldom. Pop that drips pungent melancholy, fat synths like wet slaps, sprightly melodies like cold glasses of iced-tea. The punch of drums like finger taps against the lawn-chair. Vocals like the murmur of Pedro the Lion from the other room, filtered by warm air and the lingering feel that "I'm pretty happy...". Seldom's Romance is a sweaty waltz abord a boat, occasionally broken by the frisson of a cool wind, the brisk call of a seagull.

The album opens with "Who Am I?", an zippy, keyboard-driven pop tune, with Yuuki Matthews' mopey vocals atop. It's friendly, marshmallow fare: "Who am I to say / I'm never gonna die? / Who am I?" sings Matthews over a motorcar surge of synths and backing oohs. His voice has the same fuzzy yawn as Pedro the Lion's Bazan, but atop this reined-in pop landscape, it recalls a statelier They Might Be Giants. Mathews sounds like a sad poet trying hard to dance, a heartbroken kid willing himself to look the green-eyed girl in the eyes.

"Meteor Showers" is a slower, heavier number, but the band is still able to throw the chorus up into the air, spinning, and a short instrumental breakdown fuels the final sigh to the heavens: "I'm seeing reds / deep reds."

"Sexual Identity" jumps along a low, fugue-like synth-line, again with Casey Foubert's superb, clean drum work. The keyboards follow Matthews into the circus-organ middle-eight, his elegy to meds and gender shifts swirling downwards - "It's killing me / It's killing me." "Family" plays out too flat, the harmonic interruptions confusing the pulse of the song. As with much of the album, it's a paean to simple survival, to still being alive, standing, coherent.
"And look at your brother now / He's sober / No more blow of smoking grass. / ... / Hold your head very hight / You should be so proud that they've come this far / As have you all alone / I know that they both want you home."
"You've Heard It All Before" clings to the fact of the narrator's worthlessness, while still agreeing "I'm trying". The song trembles and collapses, piece-by-piece, and there's an ominous undercurrent to this slow dissolution. The dense-textured ebb and flow of "Until We Meet Again" continues in this dark direction; glimmers of light appear here and there - particularly in the lovely vocal play in the last third - but it's not until the cathartic, minor-key resolve of "Flame" that the melancholy finds any sort of answer. "You've seen me desperate / Letting go on aspirin / I've seen you forgive me / You forgive me." The band dives sleek through the black waters, breaking into a clearer, blue-bright world. The seesaw groove as Matthews la-la-las is evocative of Ben Folds' solo work, but where Folds stumbled in the explorations of his inner demons, Seldom has tamed and painted theirs. Swirls of thick oils, spiced perfumes. This continues over the last three tracks, culminating in the resigned, confessional "Follow My Heart". Although there's a satisfaction to be gained from the straight-talk lyrics, Matthews is in places too plainly frank, conjuring little verbal imagery to accompany the atmospheric, molasses pop. Over lilting, slow-burn piano, he murmurs an unimaginitive "You're trying to stop a moving car / You're trying to stop a growing tree / You're trying to stop a shooting star". The band drifts along with utmost conviction however, and for the most part any such cliches are swallowed up in the group's mature sound. Seldom is a band that knows precisely what it is doing - doses of Seattle depression mixed with jaunty, licquorice melody. Romance flourishes in moonlight, gleaming with a sense of accepted sadness, fuelled not by pills or drink, but by starlight and waving grasses.

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