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Seefeel - Rupt and Flex (1994-96) Music Album Reviews

Seefeel - Rupt and Flex (1994-96) Music Album Reviews
A four-disc set looks back on the brief, fertile period in which the British band twisted conventional rock instrumentation into increasingly arcane shapes. They still inhabit a class of their own.

In 1994, Seefeel became the first guitar band to sign to Warp Records, at a time when such a distinction actually felt significant. The Sheffield label, founded in 1989, was still synonymous with squirrely bleep techno and high-tech head music from artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre, and electronic music was expected to be just that—the product of circuits and silicon. Seefeel, on the other hand, played guitar and bass and drums, and they even had a singer; despite copious pedals and Cubase software, theirs was a full-blooded sound, rosy as a blush. They had gotten their start on Too Pure, where they were labelmates with Stereolab, fuzz rockers Th’ Faith Healers, even the bluesy PJ Harvey; Seefeel’s early EPs and debut album, 1993’s Quique, earned them comparisons to groups like My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins. Still, protested bassist Daren Seymour, “We’re not really song people. We’re more sound people.” A new box set confirms the truth of that assertion. Rupt and Flex (1994 - 96) looks back on the brief, fertile period in which Seefeel twisted conventional rock instrumentation into increasingly arcane shapes, forging a singular fusion of ambient, techno, and dub that still inhabits a class of its own, 25 years later.

With Quique, terms like “dream pop,” “shoegaze,” and “post-rock” had attached themselves to the band; it was an era of in-betweenness, when established genres were turning porous, and the spirit of slippage suited the group. Seefeel’s 1995 album Succour—their first and, until the band reunited in 2010, only album for Warp—is the sound of old certainties dissolving. After Quique’s wall-of-sound rush, Succour was skeletal and tentative; even in its heaviest moments, it feels like a strong gust could take it apart.

By 1995, any latent rock-band tendencies left on the debut album had evaporated. You could still just about imagine the players staking out their places in the stereo field like points on the compass—drummer Justin Fletcher due south, bassist Daren Seymour and guitarist Mark Clifford pushing laterally east and west, while singer/guitarist Sarah Peacock’s cool, clear soprano drifted as far north as the frequencies could carry. But the magnet had gone haywire; the needle spun amok as poles swapped and roles blurred. Increasingly, they used a computer to chop up sound into bits to be stretched, bent, looped, and layered. In the studio, Fletcher’s live drums were replaced by purely programmed rhythms. “Seefeel’s methodology makes guitars sound like samples, the synth like a choir, and the human voice like a sequencer,” wrote Simon Reynolds, who identified them as part of a movement “using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and power chords.”

Succour opener “Meol” signals the shift that has taken place. The bass and drums, cornerstones of everything Seefeel had done until now, have momentarily fallen silent; this is a strictly liquid landscape, a vaporous guitar etude that twists like ink dissipating in water. It is the sound of pure electricity, exhausted and forlorn, a haunted dial tone singing deathbed lullabies. With “Extract,” clanking steel drums and dread bass return, establishing a dubby post-punk thread that will bind the album together, but the feel of the music remains weightless and disembodied: The song’s main hook is a curlicue of guitar feedback as Peacock’s wordless voice floats above it all, refracted into specks of light thrown by a slowly moving mirror ball.

Not everything on the record is so mellow: The turbulent “Fracture” is a roiled current over jagged rocks; the drums of “Vex” attack elegantly carved drones like a jackhammer in a hall full of marble busts. No matter the tempo or the volume of a given song, however, the mood throughout remains fiercely interior, full of toe-scuffing rhythms and inexpressible woe. The album ends as wearily as it begins, with the two-part finale of “Utreat” and “Tempean.” The first song is just two overtone-laden bass notes pitched so close on the fretboard that they quiver with dissonance. An answering bass tone blasts like an intermittent foghorn, its steady rhythm nevertheless impossible to parse; mechanical handclaps scatter in the background like startled birds. Then, after five long minutes of funereal repetition, “Tempean” provides a two-minute coda, in the form of a single held chord that dissipates into feedback in its final moments: a long held breath, and then nothingness.

The second disc of the box set is composed of Succour outtakes, and if anything, these 12 tracks are even bleaker, as though Seefeel trying to see how severely it could smudge a shape and still be left with the outline of a song. These were not just abstract experiments: To hear Clifford tell it, the band was not happy at the time. Touring was taking its toll; “the whole thing just became a bit of a nightmare sometimes,” he told Perfect Sound Forever in 2003. “In retrospect, when I think about it, it comes through in the music. When I listen to Succour now, whenever I do, I almost can’t see where it came from. It’s strange.” When they embarked upon recording Succour, the band didn’t actively discuss what they wanted to make; they simply plugged in their gear and went in pursuit of something that “reflected whatever state of mind we were in at the time.” The most fascinating finds on this disc are alternate versions that do little more than change the playback speed. “Meol 2” takes Succour’s stately opener and pitches it up to a dulcet shimmer; “Meol 3,” even faster, is a taste of metal on a cold breeze. They do something similar with alternate takes from (Ch-Vox), their third album, on the box set’s third disc, running the tape first faster, then slower, like a feedback-besotted Goldilocks in search of the point at which the drone becomes just right.

(Ch-Vox), released in 1996 on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label, was the band’s final album before calling it quits. (Clifford and Peacock eventually resurrected the group in 2010, bringing on new members Shigeru Ishihara, aka DJ Scotch Egg, and former Boredoms drummer E-da.) Rephlex is long gone, and the album has never been made available digitally, which makes its inclusion here, rounded out with half a dozen unreleased tracks, especially welcome. (Ch-Vox) sounds just as revelatory today as it did 25 years ago. It opens with “Utreat (Complete),” a sparser version of Succour’s standout track—an unconventional move, perhaps, but one that reduced the previous album’s already miserly palette even further. And that, across the next five tracks, is just what they do. Peacock’s voice is almost inaudible on this record, but you can feel its presence, or at least feel a presence, woven into the all-encompassing blanket of shadow. Album closer “Net” is about as dynamic as a house settling on an autumn night, but this third disc’s bonus tracks prove that Seefeel had still more nothingness left in them: Tape experiments play out like a tire slowly deflating, and the disc’s concluding track, “Ashime,” is just a loop of tolling bells, like an abandoned church after the apocalypse.

The box set’s fourth disc gathers a pair of Warp EPs, a couple of live tracks, a nice alternate mix of “Starethrough,” and an Autechre remix. EP cuts like “Spangle” and “Fracture” show the band at their most song-like—the former, in particular, casts a glance back on the dream-pop modes of Quique—while the percussive “Tied” is reminiscent of the industrial/techno/dub fusions that Clifford was pursuing in his side project Disjecta around the same time. (A couple of Rupt and Flex’s tracks sound almost like ambient dubstep, a genre that wouldn’t actually be invented for another decade or more.) This fourth disc feels slightly anti-climactic; after the long, gradual disappearing act that plays out across Succour and (Ch-Vox), to be returned to such forceful rhythms is jarring. But that hardly detracts from the abiding lesson of Rupt and Flex, which does the service of rescuing from obscurity two great, underappreciated albums precisely when they feel more relevant than ever. Ambient—as a genre, a practice, a philosophy—has been spun a million ways since then, and it is currently in the midst of what might be its most popular revival ever. But it has rarely been made to feel so expressive as in Seefeel’s hands—at once deeply abstracted and emotionally direct, desolate yet comforting. They were sound people, not song people, through and through, and Rupt and Flex tracks their determination to become one with a frequency.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Seefeel - Rupt and Flex (1994-96) Music Album Reviews Seefeel - Rupt and Flex (1994-96) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Saturday, May 22, 2021 Rating: 5

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