I’ve been thinking lately about this hazy constellation of subgenres I listen to most and realized I’d love to be able to give it a name. Something simple to tag every post I make about this, to me, wholly definable little sound world that I return to always. It’s balearic, it’s techno and house, it’s jazz, it’s a descendant of both German kosmiche soundscapes and 4th world new age ambience. It’s a nebulous but powerful force roving between all of these sounds.
And although no music needs a label, it’d be really useful to name this sound. That way, I could say: Seahawks’ mini-album Starways exemplifies this genre better than anything I’ve heard in a long time.
Regardless of genre affiliation, the sentiment is true. Two days ago, I’d never picked up on Seahawks, despite my last.fm account showing that I’d heard them on Spotify radio last fall. They must have blurred into the dreamy equatorial vibe of another afternoon of writing and raising my new son, gorgeous but maybe meant for later exploration. This time, I simply noticed the album artwork on a random scroll through artists related to… well all this stuff I love. It stood out with an old fashioned, earnest vibe and I had to listen. Starways felt like an instant revelation.
The most surprising thing was that this was an addendum to another, larger work. Seahawks call it a mini-LP and deservedly so – it’s a hefty set of tunes covering the full spectrum of this indefinable genre – but on paper, it reads like a simple remix EP. The 37 minute set is composed of two original tracks from the band’s prior release, 2016’s Escape Hatch, their respective remixes by Nick Mackrory and Len Leise, plus a dubbed-out house rebuild of a third track from the same album. In other words, this is mostly reworks of existing songs – but the listening experience is so much more than that implies. Starways is a coherent journey with a grand arc, as streamlined as any purpose-built album.
This unassuming bliss bomb starts off on a Brazilian pop tinge, with the final track from the 2016 album it follows. “Valparaiso” is a perfect segue from that album’s looser structure and more moody pace to the bouncier, more aerodynamic sounds of this collection. On the earlier album, it feels like a rocket shot off at the end toward some bright future; here we see that very future blooming into something new, colored by deep house and slinky vocal jazz. The set continues with “Valparaiso Part Two,” where the song now tumbles in slow motion through clouds of saxophone and dreamy organ hums, stripped of its electronic signifiers, with Ed McFarlane’s romantic vocals swooning in zero gravity.
The third track is perhaps the most familiar of the five, drifting well into traditional deep house space. Marius Circus’ ten minute take on the formerly insular Visitors, named the “Garden Dub,” is an eminently groovy tune, radiating a certain big beat energy that recalls 90s electronic heroes Leftfield and the more uniform dancefloors of that era. In the scope of this mini album, it’s the farthest step outside the bullseye zone, helping recontextualize the nighttime tropic atmosphere. It makes for a perfect transition to the apex sound of the next two pieces.
The twelve minute title track flirts with the very heart of this as-yet-unnamed genre obsession of mine. Pulsing, future-primitive percussion, saxophones blurring into the phosphorescent horizon, galactic synth swells, and a mid-song flip into far-out kosmiche textures that would make Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream melt. It’s an epic journey that feels longer than its considerable run time in the best way possible.
The surprise that takes this remix LP to another level is the final piece, a throbbing, cyberpunk reinvention of “Starways” that builds from its dissolving pool ending into towering columns of neon light, bubbling crystaline rhythm, echoes of a digital forest dream. Len Leise teases out the inherent sci-fi glow beneath the rainforest trappings and oceanside aesthetics. In this sudden contrast, he reveals nearly the full breadth of my unknowable genre sound, pulling one cornerstone through the space between its peers and coloring the gravity in between.
The very remix nature of this set is what makes it better define the shape of an amorphous genre idea than most any one single artist or album has, to my ears. It may not be the very best expression of this sound, but it certainly is the most representative of the idea I’ve mostly only articulated through my recent mixtapes, like Until the End of the World. The malleability of this sound should be experienced in full, but if you have to try just one song, make it the title track. There are few pieces of music as effortlessly majestic as this:
At this point, I should note that I don’t really care about nailing down a name for the space between this constellation of genre signifiers, but it’s a fun thought process that occupies my mind often in the drift of music like this. It sure would be easy to organize and tag everything I love like this, but maybe that’d take a little something away from the enigmatic appeal. This sound is fueled by a sense of wide-eyed wonder, after all. No one looking for concrete answers is going to seek out an album with that type of artwork, right?
Speaking of the cover art that grabbed my attention in the first place: it’s a specially commissioned airbrush work by Mervyn Beaver. I can’t wait to own the vinyl so I can see it properly. They say that album art is dying because people only see thumbnails in the streaming age, but I think it’s actually more interesting than ever. Artists are freed from constraints, choosing the look of a 12×12″ canvas or a CD jewel case insert or classic cassette label because they choose to, or not. Fun little gems like this, a warm nod to 1970s futurist jazz album artwork seen on the likes of Jean Luc Ponty LPs and 1980s custom vans, are fantastic up close, but they can still make the difference between passing and listening on a thumbnail.