This is a special occasion. One of my favorite current projects, UK duo Seahawks, have crafted a mix for exclusive release here on Optimistic Underground. This hour-long set conjures a celestial, funky, freewheeling spell that feels precision crafted for my tastes despite being composed of mostly new-to-me artists and tracks. It’s a treasure that I’m beyond excited to share.
I’ve now released 18 mixtapes here on Optimistic Underground, but before today I’ve never shared one made by anyone else, much less an artist I adore.
Track list appears as the songs play, and at the bottom of this post.
Seahawks began about a decade ago as the project of two veteran UK musicians, Jon Tye and Pete Fowler. Their signature sound is a mixture of breezy balearic, cosmic synth, earnest groove pop, and pure, untethered psychedelia. The appeal is apparent within seconds of pressing play. The duo described their genesis in an interview on Vehlinggo in low-key terms that spiked my geekiest interests: “We were DJing together at The Big Chill bar and discovered a shared liking for AOR rock, like Steely Dan and The Doobies; deep-synth adventurers past and present, such as Vangelis and OPN; and discoid nuggets from Hamilton Bohannon to Cerrone. Pete also had an interest in raw analog oscillators.”
I actually discovered their sublime sound only a little over a year ago, with the release of the Starways mini-LP; I was instantly smitten, finding each track moving closer to my musical heart of hearts. Their freewheeling travels in the space between a constellation of genres I love, their warmth and eager accessibility, moved them into regular listening rotation faster than any recent discovery. I needed to hear more, and I found as much as I could – despite their wildly difficult-to-google name.
As it turns out, that name has an unassuming origin story too, related in the aforementioned interview. “We also have a love of nautical and cosmic imagery. Again, we jammed the two things together and that gave us a lot of the Seahawks imagery. The name came about when we were DJing at Bestival. We were wearing some kind of sailor gear and a guy walking past shouted, “Seahawks!””
I like to think that the search-resistant name is a byproduct of an attitude that doesn’t pay much heed to trends in the music world; after all, their music isn’t aimed at the algorithm set or the radio. It’s pure, unabashed beauty packaged earnestly and fearlessly. And after last year’s sidestep into pure droning ambient sounds, Eternal Sounds (a track from which featured on my last mixtape) they’ve returned to the studio to create their finest record yet. Eyes of the Moon dropped last week, but I’ve been rinsing it for a month now, every time I drive and every time I need a dose of their optimistic, spiritual space sound.
It is on the occasion of the album release that they wanted to share this new mixtape with the world. After half a dozen runs through, I can only say that it feels like something I’d love to make myself, a perfect fit for release here on Optimistic Underground. If any artist was going to put something together so completely aligned with the aesthetics I cherish most, it would be Seahawks.
This mixtape, which they’ve titled A Circular Selection, highlights the sprawling web of influences on their sound, tying together a funky, synthy, horn-laden, spiritualized time-loop across the globe from the 1970s on up through their own current album. It’s absolutely bursting with earnest melody and unabashed drum machines, saxophone riffs and wave samples. It’s a clear bibliography of the band’s myriad inspirations, cutting deep and weird across a vast sea of off-kilter hypnosis. It’s boldly designed for getting truly and utterly lost.
While every track is a highlight – and all are listed below – I wanted to note a couple things. First, one of the biggest surprises was hearing a particular Larry Heard (aka Mr. Fingers) track I used on my own Cosmogony mix – it’s such an odd, weirdly specific track that somehow fits the different context of each mix perfectly. To me, it’s the sound of warmth and waves frosted over, a simultaneous warm embrace and blast of icy tech. Another surprise was the moment a certain Mike Oldfield track jumped out at me with an achingly familiar lyric. The familiarity was twisted and pulled through time; it wasn’t what I knew, but instead its own forebear. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that Kanye West listeners will find themselves unstuck in time.
My favorite moment might possibly be when Tye and Fowler cross an excerpt from synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani’s famous 1975 Buchla Concert with a track by Cake (not the 90s band) called “Submerse,” melting directly into their own “Moon Bump” from Eyes of the Moon. It’s a triple intersection of spiritual inspiration, electronic prayer, and noodly synth exploration that sums up my attraction to the band’s sound in the first place. It’s also just one of several moments on the mixtape that had me leaping to my phone to research just what I was hearing – inscrutable and irresistible in equal measure.
With each mixtape I make, I hope that it works both as an entertaining slice of music in its own right, while also urging the listener to discover more about the artists that really stood out. I want to share my love of their sounds by giving them fresh context and a new audience. Judged by that metric, Seahawks have gone above and beyond. They’ve crafted one of my favorite mixtapes in recent years while sending me on a freefall through youtube and discogs, absorbing as much as I can about every artist on the tracklist, eager to hear more.
I hope you enjoy this set as much as I do. I also hope that you jump on the duo’s new album, which is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2019 so far. You can stream and purchase it on digital or vinyl directly from label Cascine or on the album’s Bandcamp page.
I believe jumping in blind is best, as I did when I first heard this set, but if you prefer to know what’s coming, that’s cool. Here’s the full track list:
01. Takashi Kokubo – Get at the Wave [0:00]
02. Larry Heard – Winter Winds & Chills [6:02]
03. Michael Forman – Rizzo [9:05]
04. Antoine Cogut – Sphere Of Existence [13:05]
05. Clifford White – First To Love [17:23]
06. Jon Anderson – Amor Real (Global Communications remix) [21:49]
07. Cake – Submerse [32:33]
08. Suzanne Ciani – Live Buchla Concert 1975 [34:19]
09. Seahawks – Moon Bump [34:53]
10. Mike Oldfield – High Places [38:03]
11. Clifford White – Rain Trek [41:18]
12. John Martyn – You Know [47:14]
13. Tomoki Kanda – Ride A Watersmooth Stallion [50:13]
14. Takashi Kokubo – Get At The Wave [56:57]
Thank you so much for listening.