Album review: Ben Seal – Death & More

Post-glam-wonky pop, anyone? If anyone can splice genres to dazzling effect, it’s the Fife-based composer and producer, Ben Seal. Having worked with such beauties as Kathryn Joseph, Eliza Carthy, Karine Polwart, and Kirsty Law, their knowledge of pop, folk, jazz and indie is extensive, and it’s this nous they lend to their own material.

Death & More, their own solo album, is lovingly crafted, hugely personal yet elusive, delighting in ambiguity over straightforward narratives. Seal’s own queer, polyamorous identity cannot help but leak out of the speakers. Their voice, ranging from falsetto to a more moody purr (think Thom Yorke in the lower register) has enough character to satisfy the most jaded indie palates.

The quiet-loud dynamic of indie anthems is deployed beautifully, and given an upgrade for the twenty first century with ‘Parents’ and its stadium-sized refrains. ‘CU Around’ is the most twinkly euphoric kiss-off which seems destined to fill student union dancefloors – it even explodes in a Mystery Jets-circa Twenty One era in the middle eight.

The opening track, ‘Death’ has a teasing, cabaret-like strut, sweet, even as it ruminates on the vagaries of communication within a relationship. The influence of Brian Eno’s lesser-known but wonderful Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) which elevated pop into an art form, in terms of both lyrics and inventive instrumentation, is all over ‘Moonrise’, whereas ‘Truth’ has the sequinned crackle of Sparks in its insistent synthy hook. Yet somehow, they transcend such blueprints, putting their own unique stamp on the songs.

There are enough left turns here (tempo changes, shifts in mood) to keep it all consistently interesting. The waltz of ‘Krystal’ is evocative of a sad-eyed performance artist being let loose on an unsuspecting prom, flitting between melancholy and playfulness, and, unusually, the vocoder used in the bubbling pristine electronica of Jean doesn’t make me want to tear my own face off – it is used to enhance, not disguise.

Final track ‘Everything’ has a kind of delicacy akin to being enveloped in bubble wrap, a fragility that adds finality and poignancy.

Above all, the album is about finding the sweet spot between introspective oddball pop and wilful experimentation, before tickling it into submission.

Death & More will be released 30th October via the artist’s own label Piggery Records

This article was first published in the October 2020 issue of SNACK magazine. You can read the full magazine below on your smartphone, tablet, or pc.

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