2014, SXSW. Somewhere near the middle of The Eastern Sea’s set at a BBQ joint, after ‘Boy in blue’ ends and ‘Young nones’ begins, I realise this is one of those gigs I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Not only it’s the last show I’ll see in Austin in this little trip of mine, but it feels like the culmination of a strange events and shows. I’ve seen the band 5 times in a week and I still can do another 5, no problem.
All the songs are new ones. Well, most. They eventually play ‘The Match’ for a few hardcore fans that were clamouring for it and although it’s the one song that introduced me to them, it’s no longer my fave. I was going to save that prize for the next album.
A good 18 months later, The Witness, the album played that night, was finally released. For the past months, I would listen to it while driving through the crowded streets of Mexico, while reading on the metro or simply at night, at the precise moment insomnia and restlessness came to play Texas Hold’em. All that live energy, the ferocity of the drums, the grooveness of the bass and guitar duality, that innuendo-filled trumpet and the oozing synths are perfectly captured in this Decalogue of identity, break ups and self-reflection.
‘Horus, a chorus’ sets the mood for the entire album; a little stick of incense with an aroma that will linger until the very end. The one-two punch that is ‘Boy in Blue’ and ‘Something Sweet’, the two songs vying for my spot on the “fave The Eastern Sea track of all time” are perfectly captured. Shit, I think they might be even better than I remembered (and I bootlegged one show).
The bipolar nature of ‘Boy in blue’ is wonderful, with that wistful descending chord arrangement in the keyboards melting into the decisive drumming. The urgency of the last half of the song sells the point smoothly: we all are contradictions, we all are that eternally reflected boy reflected in a pair of mirrors set in front of each other. The shades of green and blue fade into oblivion. Picking up the energy is ‘Something Sweet’, a jazz and funk groove that is curiously upbeat but sad. Again we go with the juxtaposition, because opposites attract and push the ideas even farther.
It’s a swift trick, akin to sleight of hand, to make bitterness seem palatable. Hiding it into layers of self-reflection and longing and still being able to convey that frustration is proper magic. ‘Field Mouse Sea Lion’ and ‘Young Nones’ dabble in these dark arts, as they make terrible situations feel almost welcome. ‘Field Mouse Sea Lion’ is full of regret, ‘Young Nones’ is wistful and earnest. Both are keepers.
Now, for those who prefer a fresh slice of indie pop, ‘The Curse’ and ‘Silver Spoon’ will be your port in the storm of emotions that The Witness stirs. ‘The Curse’ keeps that seventies pop palette The Eastern Sea wields with perfect dexterity, with the emotions painted matching the colours of the album’s artwork. If you fancy a more relaxed approach, ‘A wave goodbye’ and ‘The Fool’ should be up your street. Just be warned, they feel “off” because there is something else skulking in the back: the songs could seem harmless, but there’s something there, ready to rip you apart if you lower your guard.
And there is a moment where you will be caught off guard. A song that is so majestic in its pop perfection, but also as harmful as smoking chromium cigars in a shed full of benzene. This daft analogy barely matches the bluntness of ‘Baseball’, the showstopping moment in The Witness. The chant, half-sports, half-warcry, sets the stage for a manic night drive through the five heads and hearts of The Eastern Sea. You will not come out unscathed and that brutal solo barely scratches the surface of the track’s importance.
Why? Because this is the track that defines The Eastern Sea‘s sound. At least from when they started this adventure with The Witness until they start tracking a new album. ‘Baseball’ gathers the nostalgic sounds, the heart-wrenching lyrics and the musical prowess that is The Eastern Sea in this period of time. A brutal machine of pop that is as well oiled and timed as a Swiss watch. With every tick and tock, it seeps through every pore and stays there, forever haunting every nook and cranny of the vast cathedral that makes your soul.
So, yes, if you scrunch your nose at the term “indie pop” and dismiss it as “something you’d like in 2010” with a sneering tone, please, put your cynicism to the side for an hour and take a trip through the many boroughs that make The Eastern Sea‘s expansive musical city. It’s a trip well worth it and let’s hope The Witness is but one of many picturesque districts.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López