Monday, September 24, 2007

Seefeel, "Quique" (reissue)

Even when they were around, Seefeel were criminally underrated, and now that they've long since split, they've been sadly forgotten. Their blending of MBV's guitar pyrotechnics, Cocteau Twins' ethereal hymns, and the Orb's free-range flotation was completely out of place with anything going on in rock or techno at the time (there were some exceptions, such as A R Kane, although they had long since jumped the shark by 1993. Nevertheless, their latter-day "dreampop" was a virtual blueprint for what Slowdive would do shortly before they too disintegrated). By not fitting into any then-existing scenes, they never found their fan-base niche, thereby leaving few people behind who were likely to remember them. Then again, they flaunted their outsider status in interviews, so one could say that they were working hard at tarnishing their eventual legacy practically from the moment they first started getting press. And yet again, if you absolutely *had* to shoehorn them somewhere, it would be with the crowd of occasional ravers with a strong curiosity for techno but who, nonetheless, were more comfortable getting stoned in their basements than in going out dancing. In other words, Seefeel's fans were prototype IDM'ers, but unfortunately for the band, that genre and fanbase didn't exist yet as an outlet for this type of music.

Despite being a near-completist, I never owned "Quique" on CD. I still have my old cassette version, which somehow never got re-purchased along with my other 1993 cassette faves (the relative unavailability of "Quique" has something to do with that). Overall, Seefeel dominated my listening habits across multiple formats in 1994. The "Polyfusia" compilation was one of the first five or so CDs that I ever bought. It is a strong encapsulation of early Seefeel before they got all weirded out and ditched the guitars for something far more sinister. Afterward, the band became dominated by the sounds in Mark Clifford's head. Fletcher, Seymour and Peacock later regrouped as Scala, more or less picking up where Seefeel c. 1993 had left off. But once the calendar flipped to 1994, the actual Seefeel started to split from the style they'd become known for, beginning with the "Starethroughs EP". Darker and dubbier than anything they'd released to that point, each successive track is more frightening than the one before it, virtually telegraphing their eventual slide into paranoid isolationism as the EP plays on.

The "Fracture/Tied EP", which was released as a 10" single in the leadup to the release of their second album "Succour", was undoubtedly the point of no return. Even at their most other-worldliness, the Cocteau Twins' music was always grounded in a certain warmth and compassion thanks to Liz Frazer's voice and Robin Guthrie's shimmering layers of guitar. Any remaining stylistic links between the Cocteaus and Seefeel dropped out of sight with this EP. The A-side's crackling rhythms, akin to flailing away on an aluminum pie plate with a wooden spoon, signified the end of their fascinations with guitar and the emergence of a jittery, mechanical form of ambient isolationism. Autechre were one year behind Seefeel at this stage -- with "Amber", they were going through their own "warm" phase, and by the next year, they'd take tracks like "Fracture" to their limits by crafting something even more inhuman, more alien.

But before their music drifted off into those neo-industrial wastelands, there was "Quique". Seefeel at their most accessible, synth-tickling, sunshine-drenched best. The Seefeel that were ten years ahead of their time in anticipating Morr Music and a host of other guitar strumming folktronica bands, which is undoubtedly why most of "Quique" remains remarkably fresh. In the liner notes, Mark Clifford writes how he'd forgotten how little unreleased music was left from that period. That means they were scraping the bottom of a very shallow barrel when compiling the second CD, most of which is vastly inferior to the material on the proper album. So credit goes to the band for making wise choices back in 1993 with their track selections on the album. Regardless, fans will certainly enjoy hearing as much as possible from "Quique"-era Seefeel, and curious not-yet fans are in for a treat.

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