BY THE SEA… AND OTHER SOLITARY PLACES
NINJA TUNE / IF MUSIC
Beautifully lush at times, brilliantly spartan at others, but stylistically layered and engaging from start to finish, the new album By the Sea… and Other Solitary Places by the group Annabel(Lee) hits your senses like a soundtrack to an expressionist dreamscape.
There are several approaches to explaining why this album works so well, but I’ll start with the arrangements by Richard E., the producer half of this group. His ability to present Modal Jazz, downtempo Lounge, Folk and Ambient forms for a single album with no indication of centering around any other style but his own, is nothing less than exceptional. You can hear dreamy, Beach Boys haze in “Invisible Barriers”; looping, laconic ante-Bop in “Believe”; pristine ballad styling in “Suki Desu”; bass and piano chords practically finishing each other’s sentences in the Jazz-infused “(1849).”
If anyone played only the music tracks from this album and asked an assembled audience to recommend a matching voice, most people would either offer misguided suggestions or say “Good luck with that.” Thankfully, the music world has Annabel, the vocal half of Annabel (Lee).
I’m pretty convinced that you could name the key, style and texture for Annabel, and she can sing it. Perfectly. Aside from a beautiful and versatile voice, Annabel displays a vibrant creative center in the way she invokes allegories and other poetic images. She emits a sense of soulful majesty in “Breathe Us,” shifts seamlessly between sung and spoken words—at mid-bars, mind you—in “My Homeland,” and offers sensual coos in “Could It Be the Siren Loves?”
This combination of talents ensures that the songs in By the Sea avoid from being cognate—a trap which snares much of electronic music. For example, you’ll find no seams in “Alone,” which runs deeper than your typical Folk vibe with a sprinkling of Bossa dust and Annabel’s letter-perfect, reflective vocals.
Released on Record Store Day in support of the Save Soho campaign, By the Sea fits my criteria for an album you should put in your collection: you can buy it, and feel confident that you’ll play it years from now…