Seazoo: Ken and Uncle Ken (self released)
At Seazoo Lab, in Wrexham, North Wales, Ben Trow and Llinos Griffiths have been writing and playing music together for some time, almost in secret and absolutely in obscurity. And that was fine with them. In February the pair home recorded some of their songs and in April released an EP called Ken. And by released we mean the songs were available via Bandcamp and the CD was sold at exactly one location – a charity shop in Wrexham.
Ken is a great introduction to a pair of musicians that bring together all of the right ingredients – fast paced boy/girl vocals, poppy overdriven synth, noisy guitars, and great melodies. If you loved Bearsuit you will love Seazoo.
In July Seazoo pleasantly surprised everyone (or more actually shocked everyone) by quickly releasing a remix of Ken, called Uncle Ken. For this project Ben and Llinos enlisted friends and relatives to experiment with the five tracks from the original EP and the result complements the original at the highest possible level. It’s not better, and it’s certainly not worse than Ken – which makes it a near perfect remix. Because the two EPs were released so close together and are so closely intertwined, I’ll make best use of a few run on sentences to cover both Ken and Uncle Ken in parallel. Both EPs share the same musical foundation and demonstrate that Seazoo are moving very, very quickly (hopefully) to bigger and better things.
Thanks to some limited radio airplay (due primarily to the keen ears of Huw and Martin at 107.8 FM in Stockport), Bandcamp, and Twitter buzz has been steadily building for Seazoo. To their complete surprise requests started coming in asking when their next live show was scheduled. The sudden interest in the Seazoo project caused a bit of a scramble for Ben and Llinos, who until that point had only written and played the songs in their spare room at home. They quickly called upon some very talented friends to create the live band. The first public Seazoo show was at the Llangollen Fringe Fest in support of Gulp. Not bad for the first time out!
If you like the sounds of synth pop blended with thrashing guitar Seazoo does that. Brilliantly. You can hear influences of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, and Yo La Tengo on both Ken and the Uncle Ken remix in various forms. All of their self-described influences fall within my musical comfort zone but Seazoo squarely puts their own unique imprint on them.
Ken is a brilliant first effort piece of work. The keyboards sound cheap but in the best possible way. The guitar is overdriven, the beat is simple and solid, and the vocal interplay between Ben and Llinos sounds so damn earnest. While both Ken and Uncle Ken were completely DIY home recording projects they do not sound amateur. The songs are well performed and engineered and you can tell that initial recording Ken was truly a passionate labour of love.
Based on the initial response to Ken, Ben and Llinos wanted to push the boundaries of the first release (and to give them time to write some new songs and whip the new band into shape). Uncle Ken is a complete remix but with a twist. All of the sounds and songs went into a blender at the hands of five different folks, who were given complete creative license. Guitar lines and vocals were looped, synth sounds got top notch filter treatment, and beats got amped. Very amped. The boundaries did get pushed, and the resulting EP moved the songs to a new level. And they decided to offer Uncle Ken as a free download via Bandcamp.
The opener, Little Boy Seazoo, begins with solo organ melody, with a voiceover of a small boy giving instructions on a project. The voice fades out as an Enoesque guitar line drops in. This rolls along nicely. Very nice. And then the song ends abruptly. Nothing fancy, no fade out, no reprise – it just ends. This jagged approach to composition is one aspect that sets Seazoo apart from their contemporaries – they are not trying to fool anyone. When songs end they just end, because the statement has been made. In contrast, the Mr Dupret Factory Remix on Uncle Ken is longer than the original. Two elements from the original version are looped (the voice of the child played a background role in the original, but takes center stage in the remix). The guitar theme is more tonally rich and looped and in the remix version is reminiscent of the signature line played in “Drift Dive” by The Antlers. The bass drum crushes the percussion and in some ways the remix seems more fully formed than the original.
No Wrenching Of Guts This Time is the shortest song on the Ken EP, clocking in at 1:57 – and it is a very nice piece of pop-punk: fuzzy guitars, heavy beat, and a nice repeating keyboard line. The vocals and song structure are bright, simple, and fast. The Wolves & Warriors Remix from Uncle Ken puts more emphasis on sonics and overdrives the keyboards in that Bearsuit kind of way. The organ, trade off vocals, and a heavy and fast guitar line carry this one. The Wolves & Warriors remix adds noise to the drum beat and the organ is retooled as a synth with a chirpy punctuated melody that is pure punk electronica. This is one of the faster and catchier songs on both Ken and Uncle Ken – you should have fun bouncing around and bumping into things while you’re listening to No Wrenching Of Guts This Time.
The original version of Bumbler on the Ken EP was inspired as a direct response to the Gorky’s song Barafundle Bumbler. This percussion has a nice hollow ring, there is a catchy guitar line, and the vocals are perfectly paired. This is a fun song and you can feel the enthusiasm. The song has a nice raggedness to it. Of all the songs on the Uncle Ken EP, the Bad Beryl Remix of Bumbler strays the farthest from the original but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This version is a keyboard warpfest and percussion heavy. The catchy riff is still there, but it’s now heavily filtered. Vocal fragments are looped and the verses are stripped out of the mix completely. It must have taken an act of bravery to completely give up control a song that you’ve just released to some one else’s interpretation but in the case of Bumbler, and all of the other remixes, it works.
Ben and Llinos are great musicians, and their arrangements, while minimal, are texturally rich. The vocal pairing can move from frantic to endearing on a dime. Carp And Man is a great rocker, with lyrics that are literary and smart. In this one a man reminisces on his past life as a carp (at least that’s what I take away from it) and debates which life is/was better of the two. The imagery in the lyrics is surreal naturalism. Scales are shed and replaced by a studded leather jacket, while rainbows shimmer in a stream. This is a very poetic song and lacks the usual Seazoo pyrotechnics. But it’s a pretty song. There I said it. Seazoo can write pretty songs. And they’re damn good at it.
Carp And Man is the longest song on Ken (4:27) and gets stretched even more on the remix by The Ystad Police. The bass is cranked to Peter Hook levels while the keyboards are layered and weave in and out of the song, building to a foamy wave at the end as the guitar comes into the mix with a very nice and wobbly repeating riff. The remix takes a chisel to the original and adds some very sharp edges, but the sentiment maintains its charm. The remix sounds like Joy Division covering a Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci song. Again- not a bad thing. Both versions of Carp and Man are great, but in very different ways, and everyone will choose a different version as their favorite.
The 5 O’Clock Club is a bass heavy instrumental with both the keyboard and the guitar politely taking their turn to make their statements. The Ken version of the song has a solid and distinctive 4 piece sound and none of the instruments are fighting for your attention, the beat is steady and not overdone – the mix is great. The 5 O’Clock Club sends us out on a happy groove. In delightful contrast, the Westro Remix that closes Uncle Ken is a synth-pop rave. Westro creatively filters and pans the keyboards and vocal chants with great skill, bringing an up tempo and banging groove to the 5 O’Clock Club. The bass pounds and in the remix Westro decorates the songs with some sonic ornaments that are well placed. But, like all of the songs on these two EPs, at the end of the day, stand on their own as great pop.
Ben and Llinos, and all the folks at Seazoo Lab must be smiling. They did great work on Ken and produced a very smart EP. Their musical reference points are easily identifiable and extremely likeable. And it took courage to let other people put hands on and mangle the original tracks. Uncle Ken is a brave piece of work and it was brilliantly executed without taking itself too seriously.
Seazoo move quickly so try and catch them. And considering that the Uncle Ken Remix EP is a free download via Bandcamp it will cost you nothing to try and prove me wrong. You can catch Seazoo live at the Swn Festival in October.