Wind and waves, industrial whistle and groan. Seagulls squawk as they squabble over the remains of a takeaway meal. Somewhere a radio is bleating itself hoarse, but is still drowned out by the sea and the weather. I hear children’s voices, but it’s hard to tell whether they are here, part of the scene, or whether their sounds are coming from a different place — from the radio, perhaps. This ambiguity regarding location and environs seems like an important aspect of Joda Clément’s new album “Sea Songs”, a key to its beguiling affect.
“Sea Songs” doesn’t offer a picturesque rendering of oceanic soundscapes — this isn’t a shoreline you’d want to sunbathe on. In fact, the chaos, noise, and disorder of first track “Day For Night” can feel more industrial than natural — until it all fades away in a dark tonal glow, leaving a surging quiet as different from, and yet connected to, what went before it as the weather underwater is both different from and connected to the weather above the surface. After a while we emerge from the deep to the wailing of a ship’s horn and the pounding of rain on hard surfaces.
Second piece “Partly Returning” opens with a cutting string-like sound before descending into deep rumble and slowly building noise, creating a more dramatic and moody atmosphere than previously heard. Album closer “The Apparition” is more subdued, despite its tonal fuzz, feedback, rushing and rumbling, and churning, gurgling water; somewhat paradoxically, it seems somehow the most precarious, unstable, and ambiguous of the three tracks. The movement of the music is no longer simply between above and under water, but also between waking and dreaming. The album ends with a quiet, vaguely lost-sounding two-chord pattern, the humming of air, and the rumbling of who-knows-what engine as it glides out to sea and over the horizon.
The album’s cover image of listening to a conch shell is a good metaphor for the music: one hears the sea, but differently, filtered not just through Clément’s creative audition and a host of collaborators on various instruments and objects, but also through personal memories of and relationships with coastal environments. The sea has long been a source of enchantment and inspiration for artists, and “Sea Songs” is a fine continuation of that tradition.
Image by Carolyn Ellen Beattie