You’re on a train, the weather is dismal and you’re plummeting backwards for that in-between stretch of time called inconvenience. It’s one of those days where people are nothing but dressed-up bodies that are in your way. The TV-order remedy (that actually works) for this despair is Seamonster’s Baldessari; namely one man with a fantastic plan and a whole lot of unusual instruments.
A little patch of sunshine on the nondescript sidewalks we zoom past, Virginia Beach native Todd Webb paints a musical canvas with a new LP (to be released on 12″ easter-yellow vinyl) named after innovative artist John Baldessari, and inspired by iconic artists such as Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Georgia O’Keefe. Webb’s colour palette includes a Casio Sk-10 keyboard (a gift from his preschool years), a thrift Yamaha PortaSound PSS-130, a ukelele, an old iPhone, a Campbell’s soup can, and a broken Danelectro guitar. Not only this but the images created by Gauguin, van Gogh and O’Keefe were transformed into sounds and incorporated into the album with freeware program AudioPaint (no surprise what you’re about to download). However impressively constructed, beauty is naturally in the eye (or ear) of the beholder, so how did Baldessari fare at its unveiling?
First track ‘Noa Noa‘ lays fresh soil and starts growing rainbow-coloured grass in a newborn world of music, somehow using video game noises elegantly and flaunting quirky charm with what sounds like the creak of an old toy or arcade machine. In no way particularly upbeat or loud, the indie meets soft-electro style still gives cheerful vibes, hushed and in swells like rolling hills of imagination. So far, these deep tones and underwater wonder like that of a submarine tour tickle the senses and your train ride is a little less boring.
‘Normandy Landscape‘, the LP’s first single, hears Webb singing in his distant, warm voice about landscapes, colours and being lost in someone’s eyes, an instance where the lyrics are perfectly matched to the development of the music, a scene perhaps gazed at from a charming vintage car or classic ferry. ‘Rain or Snow‘, ‘Parasol‘, and ‘The Lawrence Tree‘ are pieces of the Baldessari showpiece that (sadly a touch repetitively, but not dangerously so) use all of the instruments in its arsenal for a clever swishing echo of vocals, more video game sounds (Pokemon, anyone?) and a refreshing tone that never dips in enthusiasm. Blissful daydreaming recommended.
Interesting highlights include ‘Vincent’s Chair‘, a Mumford & Sons emulation with a whole host of pixie world instruments and a dark plot twist in the form of Hadouken!-like electro, a story-song that is edgy but at the same time chirping and chiming. The sprites return in ‘Adeline‘, featuring water droplet sounds with a different note each, harmonising like nature’s song to a forest goddess and brings to life fairies and sparkling springs to the calm of foreign feminine vocals.
‘Dancers‘ will remind the indie fan of Darwin Deez’s trademark jubilance, a dreamy track that has left the romantic ferry behind and taken the listener to space – we’re playing hopscotch on stars now. Baldessari’s scenery is forever changing, however, and we’re back in the ocean with ‘Abstraction‘ – is that whalesong in the distance? Its only risk of drowning is the lack of a strong chorus or individual quality to distinguish from the rest of the LP, one can only float for so long in the same seas.
‘Howard Finster, Man of Visions‘ hosts the only real isolation of that broken Danelectro guitar, a sweet strumming which leaves you sitting on the beach, heartwarmingly content, relishing what Webb sings is “heaven for our ears to enjoy“. Strange and consuming, we’d say Webb’s painting will have no trouble attracting buyers. So you’re not on a train after all, you’re on a boat (or on a spaceship, or in a submarine, or in Neverland?!) traveling well into the unknown, but it’s pretty cool either way. Welcome aboard the Seamonster.
(The digital version of Baldessari features bonus remixes by Monster Rally, Roman Ruins, Eric Steuer, Yalls, and DJP & MrT. The Yalls remix just premiered over at Earmilk, click here to give it a listen)
Words by Caroline Bursell