Review: Sea Oleena “Shallow”

01 Oct 2014 — Sam Clark

Charlotte Loseth’s debut album has been years in the making. During a period of time outlined by the decline of Myspace and the advent of Soundcloud, the Montreal-based artist released two abbreviated efforts as Sea Oleena: a self-titled project in 2010 and 2011’s Sleeplessness. Both mini-albums were incredibly poignant, creating desolate landscapes from a small reserve of instruments and effects processors that slowly enveloped anyone on the receiving end. But despite the rapid-fire succession of her first two releases, Loseth has remained relatively dormant over the past three years, diligently crafting her wondrous full-length, Shallow.

Upon immediate immersion, the basic constructs of the Sea Oleena sound don’t seem to have changed much on Shallow. The excellent opener “If I’m” finds Loseth singing over familiar delicate piano arpeggios bolstered by an ambient mixture of strings and feedback, with pulsating drums lightly fleshing out the rest of the space. A feeling of momentum isn’t anything particularly new in a Sea Oleena song, but its method of delivery feels decidedly fresh, an organic departure from the previous use of electronic and tabletop percussion. Often times, an artist’s externally perceived level of success is derived from their ability or willingness to incorporate new timbres into their winning formula, but Sea Oleena serves as a stark example of a project that benefits more so from a meticulous honing of a promising skill set.

Indeed, Loseth has continued to perfect her craft, paying more attention to production details than ever before. After the comparatively propelling first half of “If I’m” the album tapers off into a pool of molasses-thick reverb, submerging the listener for the next twenty minutes. Loseth showcases her comfort behind the piano and on a guitar, the latter prominently apparent on “Shades of Golden.” The echoes of her voice bounce off imaginary walls as she arpeggiates through a chord progression, her lyrics mournfully drawn out as they turn back and wait for the guitar’s delay to catch up.

It isn’t until the subsequent track that Loseth breaks from her catharsis, the grating string samples juxtaposing a defined tranquility. But that break is fleeting and the next four minutes of “Everyone With Eyes Closed” is spent combatting that jarring moment, resulting in one of the most dense offerings on Shallow. Vocals are layered judiciously, their melodic movement slowed considerably to make way for the myriad of melodies and countermelodies that exist in the guitar and various keyboards. The agitated strings seem to have the final word, but become subdued by the opening notes of “Vinton, LA”, the album’s penultimate effort.

In many ways “Vinton, LA” is Loseth’s magnum opus; the longest song by far on Shallow, it takes nearly every timbral and melodic idea presented thus far and distills it into an eleven-minute odyssey. A plaintive piano line dictates the song’s opening third, but gradually begins to add more weight, supplemented by heavier attacks, bowed strings, and layers upon layers of Loseth’s voice.  But that initial crescendo is a red herring, as are the two that follow. With no discernible climax, Loseth achieves a moment of raw and pure yearning, a simple emotion that is  nevertheless almost impossible for artists to extract.

At just seven tracks long, Shallow seems to end almost prematurely with “Paths”.  The song, with its ostinato arpeggios and swells of white noise, acts almost as a companion piece to “If I’m”, bringing the cohesive ideas explored throughout the album full circle. Though peaks and troughs of emotion can certainly be deciphered, the prevailing feel that washes over Sea Oleena continues to be one of placidity, a calming presence absolutely necessary for the hibernation-like behavior that often accompanies winter in the Northern Hemisphere. With Shallow, Charlotte Loseth has made good use of her time out from under the blogosphere’s eye, crafting a remarkably smooth and polished product that will undoubtedly be in constant rotation for the foreseeable future.