Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Sea Oleena at The Plant

Sea Oleena + Year of Glad  |  The Plant

                          PHOTOS  |  VALERIA VEGA

Your waking moments on the 12th of April were probably like mine: eyeballs and callow  and diminished in the light; dreams dripping out of reach, joining all the air's atoms; your room colder than the time of year should allow. Maybe you wet the bed a little, maybe you didn't. I'm not saying I did.


Or maybe you yawned and tripped your way over to the window to say hello to an unfashionably late snowfall that probably few people were pining for. You bellowed a King Kongean groan to the massive white horizon, then turned away to pay a thought to all the shaking Bambis and Winnies who came back too early this year. You noble thing, you.

I sure wasn't going to let a few million white things stop me from finding Sea Oleena at The Plant. My soul craved musical abstraction. I needed deep bass and a young girl's faultless voice to take the edge off the cold day. Being an unofficial venue, The Plant is a BYOBer, so I also needed a sturdy flask with a lot of Crown Royal and a little of not much else.


Last thing was proof of admission, so when I got there they stamped me with a potato. As in the vegetable. The guy looked me in the eye and asked if he could potato-stamp me. I laughed and shook my head. Then I saw he wasn't joking so I said "Jesus!" He coated half a small potato with ink and pressed it into my wrist. It felt gooey and maybe bacterial but also kind of glorious in that life-affirming way.

First on the musical menu was Year of Glad, and boy oh boy, oh boy oh boy. The members of this band are obviously the physical incarnations of Pink Floyd's 'Great Gig in the Sky'. Some time ago that song got tired of riding the invisible lines of our graph-based reality, so it sought animation, becoming the lives of the suave gentlemen that make up this totally outlandish, fantastic band. It was progressive art rock that synesthetically splashed out colour after extra dimensional colour, soaking our potassium-caked skins in carefully crafted sonic wizardry. These guys know when to smash and when to mend. They all majored in Musical Tension and Release at Harvard. And frontman Alex Bergman knows how to sing! He'll either carry long, very high, perfectly sustained banshee wails to go with the drummer's more elbow-greased shots, or bring us back down with slow strums and murmur painful and beautiful things into the mic. It was all so weird and sincere and endearing - a set that kept the lavatory good and empty.

Nick Kuepfler was up next, joined by his tape loops and beard. At the start of the set his body was at The Plant with us, but his mind clearly ventured off to cosmic shores. I enjoyed the apocalyptic drone of the tapes and the scattered aleatoric sounds, but the whole thing just barely crossed the line of how abstruse I like my music. The sounds were calming and spatial, yes. They took me somewhere else, but I was there too long. There wasn't enough harmony to dissolve the dissonance. At some points he would pull out the bow to play over his electric guitar, and during those short intervals I'd feel something not far from euphoria, but those harmonic breaks were just that. Then it was back to purposeful disorder. Dada. Kuepfer's music is deeper than the first turtle to remove his shell, and that's a little too deep for me. Good on him, though, and I hope he digs even deeper. Maybe one day he'll break through to whatever's on the other side.

When Sea Oleena came on she asked us all if we could please sit down. If a voice that soft asked us to lick our elbows for the entire show we would comply. Joining her on stage was her brother Luke Loseth (who she performs and records with for their band Holobody) on guitar, and a tall man with a perfect 'stache playing a very big cello.

I'm a sucker for songs that make me feel the way I do in dreams, and no one has a firmer hold on the dimethyltryptamine in my brain than does Sea Oleena. Indeed, dream music is the only thing I can think to label her style as. Cycling through her tracks you'll find heavily-reverbed slack-string ballads, punchy psychedelic folk that'll mangle your innards, and industrialized acoustic rhythms with drums that really get the shoulders leanin'. Regardless of diversity, all her songs have that central dreamy center, and have kept me company on many a sleepless night. Hearing her in person was something else, though.

Forgive my shabbiness in saying things like "Words can not do justice" and "Time stopped" in describing Oleena's set, but the thing is that I really don't have the words to do justice to how I felt. And although time didn't really stop, the way I responded to it did. Any loitering thoughts I had about the past or future disappeared when she started singing, so I got to experience the lottery of being nowhere but the present for her entire set.

I'd look up at what was going on from time to time but mostly my eyes were glued to one of the wooden tiles on the floor. On my end there was some slow head swaying and progressive perspiration. On hers was some sweet, sweet singing. Impossible singing. She'd keep me wide-eyed on that one little tile for a while, then she'd stride up the aural scale like you can imagine an angel would have, and I'd literally shake my head like a dog for a second and think Are you serious?

Between her own songs she covered Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" (yes she did) but she did it in a way that turned that pop-y exclamation of butterfried bliss to a sad, sarcastic voicing of a love left unreciprocated. How did she do that, you ask? She drastically lowered the BPM and played it without any trumpets or Jay-Z. But then she also did it by being curious as to why things are thought to be so immovable, and by being in touch with that warm blue funk all humans have in their hearts.

So, how to describe Sea Oleena? She is the ocean without the smell of salt and fish. She is the voice that inhabits your thoughts as you think back on childhood car rides to La Ronde. If kashmir could talk, it would hear Sea Oleena singing and think, "Damn, that is soft."

Look her up.
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