The Ghost That Carried Us Away

Seabear

Morr Music, 2007

http://www.myspace.com/seabear

REVIEW BY: Laura Elise

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/29/2008

With their 2007 major-label debut, The Ghost That Carried Us Away, the Icelandic psychedelic-folk seven-piece Seabear has created an excruciatingly beautiful masterpiece. With constantly recurring themes of love and nature, this subtly large collage of sound creates a sunny, laid-back atmosphere that is warm enough to bring one to tears, as is rightfully stated in their slogan, "It's not cold in Seabearia!"

Seabear began as a one-man project in the form of Sindri Sigfússon, whose self-released 2004 EP The Singing Arc (download the MP3s for free from seabearia.com) serves as the only predecessor to Ghost. Somewhere along the way, Sigfússon's Seabear picked up six other members, and while not much information can be found on the band, the Reykjavik-based group's Myspace lists the other six members as Orn Ingi, Guggý, Inga, Kjartan, Dóri, and Sóley, as well as "honorary Seabears" Orvar, Eiki, and Porri.

The album begins with a short instrumental entitled "Good Morning Scarecrow," a possible sequel to The Singing Arc's instrumental opening track "Do You Still Like Scarecrows?" Arc is, in fact, a more than worthy component to Ghost. The overall sound and instrumentation of the arrangements on Arc are very similar to those featured on Ghost, and they are just as stunningly gorgeous. One difference that I can find between the two releases is Sigfússon’s singing style. His voice on some of the earlier recordings seems to project a bit more, is less lilting, and is more soulful.

When I first heard Sigfússon begin singing on the second song, "Cat Piano," his vocals reminded me of M. Ward's, though slightly more whispery. While Sigfússon's speaking voice is laden with a rather thick Reykjavik accent, when he sings there is barely a trace of it. His vocals are quiet, sometimes almost buried in the mix and quite inaudible, but his soft, almost raspy style fits perfectly against the band's beautiful canvas of interesting sounds, emanating from such sources as keyboards, ukulele, xylophone, banjo, violin, harmonica, and a slew of what-the-hell-is-that-noise type samples. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first few times I listened to this disc I was driving, so it was essentially on in the background, and while I was immediately entranced by the dreamy nature of the instrumentation, I was not in the position to properly make out Sigfússon's lyrics. Upon closer inspection, I was impressed and quite moved at the poetic nature of his lyricism. He certainly seems to have some favorite themes, which are continually reinventing themselves throughout the songs on the album. On Seabear’s Myspace, Sigfússon lists his influences as follows: “Owls. Scarecrows. My cat. The weather. The summer. The winter. Iceland. Coffee.” Many of the ideas listed occur several times in Sigfússon’s lyrics; owls are mentioned repeatedly, as well as scarecrows, felines, and water.

The complete immersion of Sigfússon’s lyrics in earthy, nature-oriented themes is part of what makes this album so charming, so human, and so timeless. In the third track, "Libraries," Sigfússon sings, "The next time I wake up, I want it to be / In a rabbit hole, to the sound of you making coffee / With the warm, salty sea / Its waves crashing over me."  The song closes with the repeated lyric, "Look what you've done / You've punched a hole in the sun."

Another lyrical high-point comes with the fifth  song, "Hands Remember:"  "It's been a while now since you asked me to be / Your cat, your dog, your owl or bumblebee / Lately I've been feeling like the day has come / You'll walk up to me and erase my memory / I can't wait to feel brand new / I can't wait to meet you again, friend / I think I must have known you in another life / I think our rocking chairs used to rock together all night."

Aside from the fact that at very select times the vocals are almost aggravatingly quiet, especially when trying to make out Sigfússon's thought-provoking, whimsical poetry, the album was mixed quite beautifully. So much space has been created in the mix that I often don't realize just exactly how many different sounds are going on at once. It's a rather full sound that Seabear has created, but it is not in the least bit dense, incongruous, or overwhelming.

The album’s fourth track, “Hospital Bed,” begins sounding quite melancholy, driven by the haunting wail of a violin. At the end of the first verse, Sigfússon sings, “I try and I try / To squeeze the blue out of the sky / The yellow out of the sun.” It is here, amidst the plucking of a violin and the rhythmic “ba da dum” of background voices that the song quietly explodes and becomes at once more percussive and melodic, one of the most breathtaking instrumental moments I have heard. Sigfússon proceeds with the lyrics “And that big and miserable boulder / You keep on your shoulders / With time, we’ll make it into sand.” It was at this moment that I was forced to come to terms with the fact that Seabear has become one of my favorite bands. The Ghost That Carried Us Away is brilliant, a must-have.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2008 Laura Elise and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Morr Music, and is used for informational purposes only.