It's a very rare fish that can describe the water to paraphrase media analyst Marshall McLuhan. When one is absorbed in pop music, there is a sensation of hearing the beating pulse of the times you are living in, and provides an invaluable clue about the world we are living in and some possibilities about where to go as artists and as a culture.
Sea Level released their self-titled EP Sea Level in May by producer/musician Dan Capaldi and it feels very timely, very of the moment. It's got falsetto, Prince-like soul vocals; it's got an amalgam of machine beats, electronic flourishes and live instrumentation. Rather than just being bandwagon-esque, it seems that Capaldi is honing and perfecting the tool kit available to electronic musicians and pushing it to a new level of masterful classicism.
Capaldi works as a film composer and producer as a day job, and brings this level of orchestral grandeur and ambition to his artful pop songs. Rather than succumbing to some format and painting by numbers, Capaldi uses his extensive arsenal of live instruments and layered vocals to conjure abstract themes, like dreams vs. reality. Rather than focusing on extreme fidelity, Capaldi's dense tapestry of live instruments and layered samples are run through a battalion of loop pedals and samplers, and mixed on the fly. This suggests an alliance between humans and the machine - between the past and the future.
This provides a clue for a way forward, for the discerning producer who is attempting to master and make the most of the tools at their disposal. Capaldi does not settle for presets, sample packs and ready-made song structures. Each song is a living organism, a jigsaw puzzle to be reverse engineered, to select the best song or word for each individual case.
The material on Sea Level runs a wide range, from psychedelic orchestral pop ("Close Enough"), to archaic 8-bit electronica ("Embryonic Feel"), to ragged hip-hop ("Fire Like This"). Sea Level leaves you guessing, and turns on a dime. You never know what's going to happen next and that is a good thing. It suggests an antidote to those who suggest we are doomed to repetition, ad infinitum. Perhaps we can make something new, after all, or at the very least, put the pieces together in new and surprising ways.
"Live in the past/things wash away/but still I find/things are okay," Capaldi sings, on "Embryonic Feel.” Here seems to be a man entirely at piece with honoring his roots, while being resolutely himself and making something individualist and personal.
This is Capaldi's third record as Sea Level, but the first to be released nationally. It is a very strong effort, which suggests a bright future and an ambitious young artist. Sea Level is in the process of putting together a bold new live show, preparing to take this material on the road. All in all, Capaldi has what it takes. People will be humming these machine mantras, mark my words. You heard it here first.
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