Seabear - The Ghost That Carried Us Away

George Bass 21/07/2007

Rating: 3.5/5

With Iceland farming out musical prodigies quicker than the home listening aisle of its overseas supermarket franchise can sell them, cult imprint Morr have wasted no time in taking the latest Reykjavik darlings under their wing. Already home to the frivolity of Benni Hemm Hemm and Múm, it's with a smokeringed breath of confidence that they release The Ghost That Carried Us Away, the debut album by one-man-band-and-his-five-mates Sindri Már Sigfússon, aka Seabear. He isn't cut from entirely the same cloth as his better-known countrymen, however, and -- almost surprisingly -- doesn't seem too keen to plug into the national lore that the world and his missus seemingly can't get enough of at the moment. While his labelmates capture the glistening postcard art of the native landscapes as inspiration, Sigfússon and chums plump for a blue-skied poppy approach to their sound, and put together twelve tracks of bopping warmth for their first full-length venture into the arena.

So, what do the Icelandic middle months sound like, then? In a nutshell: pretty slick. The Ghost That Carried Us Away seems content enough to stick to the dos and don'ts of bubblegum indie, but holds back a liquid mint interior that stays fresh enough for the three quarters of an hour listening time. While Owl Waltz may aspire to be the Springwatch cover of Beck's Dead Melodies, downbeat scuffle and cul-de-sac lyrics a plenty ('It's hard to wake up when you're not sleeping/It's hard to make it be something when it means nothing at all'), outwardly lighter numbers drag you back among the brighter crop of wallflowers, and promise all the sunshine and optimism of the first morning of school holidays. Cat Piano in particular sounds like Cold War Kids' We Used To Vacation pulling slowly out of The Priory on a horse-drawn wagon, each bar of its verse approved with a red ink piano tick. Say goodbye to kidney pissing misery, you can almost hear the photo brochure strapline exclaim. That's about as weighty as things get in general, and the bulk of the record is comfortable enough living up to the pastel-shaded pencilwork of its smudgy cover art. Case in point: Summer Bird Diamond, a two-minute acoustic serenade which twitches with more birds than Bill Oddie's little black book.

There's plenty of exotic trinkets routed into the album's pop woodwork, and Seabear handle the production gallantly enough to stop their sound being put into either the Confirmed Happy or Confirmed Sad boxes. On Sailors Blue, they let harmonicas and pooling guitar twangs take the torso of a pouting tragedy and swathe it in Hawaiian shirt frills, whereas Libraries' driving beat and female vocal harmonies are summery as a meadow of moulting dandelions. Likewise, the Steve Wright gallop of Arms is pleasantly countered with Lost Watch, a song that takes the mopey squeal of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's They Don't Sleep Anymore On The Beach and chews it slowly into compilation album digestibility. Sigfússon proves he's a deep-down softy at heart in the end, though, and cranks things up nicely for the rousing come-again wave of Seashell, where some carefully selected country spangles discombobulate a string loop over and over and over, the whole thing snowballing into a giddy storm of folk before its abrupt termination. It's likely to have you reaching for the Repeat button merrily enough, geared up for the jostling clapalonga hi-jinx of opening instrumental Good Morning Scarecrow.

With the summer trying to get the last of the rain out of its system and stereos across the country in need of a feel-good booster shot, Seabear have got the odds in their favour for when they play their hand come August. Sure, Radio 2 might swallow them up faster than Wossy gets another nought on his wage slip, but there's a smidgeon of dark majesty skulking in amongst the field-recorded chirping and hammond organ blushes; kind of a 12A redux of Radical Face's Ghost. With grey skies forever on the horizon and the sun on somewhat of a go-slow, that's about as dark as you want things to go at the minute.