Monday, July 2, 2007


Seefeel/Main, The Garage, London
Melody Maker, summer 1993

'Ambient' has become the buzzword of '93, a term that
circulates promiscuously even as it gets ever harder to pin
down to a precise meaning. 'Ambient' is now a freefloating
signifier, referring to everything from post-Orb 'ambient
dub', to the Satie-esque minimalism of The Aphex Twin, to the
post-modern bachelor pad muzak of Stereolab. If it means
anything, ambient announces a desire to go beyond (the
strictures of rock, of rave) into a realm of sensuous
spirituality. But even this definition fails to account for
the alien and alienated ambience of post-apocalyptic dub-
metal explorers like Ice, Scorn, Thomas Koner and Main.

As Main get underway, the bloke next to me lights up a spliff. That’s one meaning of ‘ambient’ for sure: a soundtrack to getting stoned. But Main would seem a most unlikely candidate for that, since their uneasy atmospherics are the antithesis of mellow. Main instill a dread-drenched feeling of impending cataclysm and it’s this aura of arrested apocalypse that is just about the only continuity with Robert Hampson’s previous vehicle, Loop.

In Main, Hampson has ruthlessly purged whatever slight remnants of crowd-pleasing rock’n’roll dynamics still clung to Loop. There’s no “energy” here, in the conventional kick-ass sense, but there is in the form of radioactivity, a malign forcefield penetrating the listener’s flesh. Main’s version of ambience is very distant from Eno’s “healing music” or the Aphex Twin’s soothing bubblebath of analogue synth.

At other times, Main make Metal-Machine-Music, remorseless but impersonal, like Faust expunged of their antic wit and turned into a death factory. One track is like being in a ship’s engine room, all metallic clanking and creaks, hisses and shearings. The final toe-tapper is an awesome experiment in the science of void-ology: a vast, reverberant dronescape, as haunting as a threnody sung by the ghosts of all the whales massacred by Mankind.

Seefeel have a similar mantric methodology to Main, but
a totally different effect: purely wombadelic, kissed-out
where Main are the kiss of death. If Main prolong the point
just before catastrophe, Seefeel expand the point just before
orgasm, stretch it out into a thousand plateaux of bliss. A
Seefeel song is like an orgasm turned into an environment, a
honeycomb space of luminous, globular goo. You feel like
you're actually inside the drugged or orgasmic body, a grotto
of rushes, tingles, shivers, pangs, spasms.

Only a few months ago, I was bemoaning the dearth of
groups exploring blurry blisscapes midway between AR Kane and
Aphex Twin. Seefeel are a pipe-dream come true, and the best
new band of '93. At times, they suggest a dub-dance odyssey
A.R. Kane could have embarked upon after their MARRS track
"Anitina". At other times, they're making the music that MBV
could have reached if they'd pushed the sampled feedback and
looped beats of "Loveless" just a bit further. Seefeel meld
dreampop and techno into a swoon-machine. Songs like
"Plainsong" and "Time To Find Me" are billowing tapestries of
sugar hiccupping, heart-in-mouth euphoria. They make your
brain purr, your goosepimples glow. All Seefeel need to do
now is to turn their hazy back-projections into a 3D
environment, so that the listener is swaddled and swathed in
synaesthesia, cocooned in caressing sound-and-vision.

SEEFEEL, Quique (Too Pure)
Melody Maker, 1994

As titles go Quique lies somewhere between mid-period
Cocteaus and Aphex Twin's scientific arcana. Quique is
perfectly blank, utterly abstract: it looks nice on the page,
feels nice in the mouth, and that's what counts. And as part
of the post-rock, post-techno ambient thang, Seefeel are all
about abstraction. Just as the trajectory of abstract art
involved the liberation of colour from line and figure, so
the trajectory of psychedelia has involved the liberation of
"chromatics" (timbre, texture, noise) from the contours of
song and riff. So if A.R. Kane were late Matisse (oceanic
mysticism, blocs of garish colour) and MBV shift between
action-painting chaos and Klee naivete, then Seefeel induce
the same kind of serene exaltation of the soul as Rothko's
lambent, blurry canvases.

"Climactic Phase No. 3" is Seefeel as we've come to
expect from "Plainsong" and "Time To Find Me": over a foetal-
heartbeat bassline, billowing cirrus-swirls (Seefeel's
methodology makes guitars sound like samples, the synth like
a choir, and the human voice like a sequencer), weave
together to form a shimmering outerspace/innerspace
wombscape. It's hard to say why some pieces feel like
blissful suspension from reality, while others (the
clangorous "Polyfusion") are like watching the proverbial
Dulux dry. All the tracks are equally uneventful, sifting'n'
shifting layers, ending arbitrarily and "inconsequentially".

"Industrious" is almost urgent, it surging bass-drum
axis swathed in striated guitar that hums like massed bombers
on the horizon. But the female vocal sounds a tad too
monastic (at times Seefeel lapse into being a mere techno-
conscious Slowdive). Then a track like "Imperial" follows to
chase away all reservations: squiggle-shivers of iridescence
braid together to conjure a prolonged mind-spasm, like the
brain being flooded with endorphins. Pillowy, heaven-
scented, soft as snow but warm inside, "Plainsong"
demonstrates Seefeel's art of turning a pinnacle into a
plateau. "Charlotts Mouth" also aches, but with anguish not
ecstasy. Desolate dub bass, forlorn girl-vox, gently weeping
guitar: this is almost the blues they're oozing, but A.R.
Kane style (harrowed by the terror of beauty, the way
possession can be pierced through by the presentiment of
loss). "Through You" is like Aphex in alien mode: strange
rubbery squeaks and glassy clinks offset by portentous crests
of sound building to a pitch of mournful majesty.

The last two tracks show Seefeel stretching out from
their own formula, and that's a good augury. On "Filter
Dub", the way different threads (frayed guitar, lovesick
whalesong etc) twine together, hitting a harmonic G-Spot
every couple of bars, is like doowop orchestrated by drone-
meister Terry Riley. "Signals" is Seefeel at their most
radical and radiant. Fuzzy harmonics, like a harp played
underwater, simply hang tremulously in the air: this really
is Rothko'n'roll.

Seefeel sometimes need a bit more space in their sound,
a bit of emptiness to punctuate the drone-swarm. Like MBV on
Loveless, they're sometimes so blissed it's suffocating,
like drowning in mother's milk. But overall, Quique is
consummate, a blanched canvas for the imagination, and a
cracking debut.


SEEFEEL, Quique (Caroline)
Spin, 1994

Whatever happened to 'dreampop'? Well, the smartest of
those bands have turned onto techno, and are mixing their
their lustrous guitarstuff with sampled pulses and sequenced
hypno-rhythms. My Bloody Valentine showed the way with
1991's Loveless, on which they looped their basslines and
sampled their own feedback. The best of the new techno-
affiliated dreampopsters, Seefeel, have struck a sublime
groove midway between MBV's sensual tumult and Aphex Twin's
ambient serenity.

Listening to Seefeel's billowing tapestry of textures,
it's hard to distinguish between the looped samples, treated
guitars, and breathy, non-verbal murmurs (vocalist Su Page is
just another 'instrument'). Under this caressing canopy of
sound, there's a dub-influenced rhythm matrix of foetal-
hearbeat bass and percolating percussion. But at their most
radical, Seefeel abandon songs and beats altogether, leaving
a dyslexic shimmer of radiance that's like a musical
equivalent to Op Art. With "Imperial" and the purely ambient
"Signals", you try to squint your ear in order to bring the
music into focus, then give up, and just bask in the
gorgeous, amorphous glow.

Seefeel make a sound like the pleasant ache of a post-
orgasmic brain, like the dizzy drone-swarm of butterflies in
the stomach. Quique should be subtitled: "Songs For
Swooning Lovers".

The Melody Maker Quique review and the live review with Main appear in the sleevenotes to the album's two-CD reissue as Quique: Redux Edition , highly recommended

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