Dictionary (Handwritten), the ten song album released by indie band SEA LEVEL on July 11, is an eclectic yet satisfying mix of ambient drones, found sound collages, and piano ballads that alternate off-kilter rhythms with soothing strums of acoustic guitar. You’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds like a meal made up of too many cuisine mashups, yet the flavors of this musical dish come together due to a shared penchant for pushing the boundaries of any one genre.
Experimental numbers verge on atonality yet retain their musical core, while softer songs that are almost too melodically pretty still have enough of a rough edge to claim their alternative bona fides. This makes sense, as the five-piece Fukuoka and Tokyo-based SEA LEVEL is a bit of a side project composed of members from other avant hyphenate units like Macmanaman, tepPohseen, and Sonotanotanpenz.
The band set the mood with disc opener (Alan Turing’s) Tuning Test, which features washes of sound not a world away from Apollo-era Eno. Race Against the Drum Machine has wordless chanting by vocalist Itamura Hitomi mixed with a stuttering but almost danceable funk drum pattern, like throwing Yoko Ono in a blender with Chic drummer Tony Thompson.
Although they left out Carol and Ted, Bob and Alice (in Wonderland)‘s repeated guitar figure plays counter-point to gently tinkling piano set against the sound of softly falling rain. Very beautiful. Album closer Valis (in Wonderland) brings things to a close and avoids falling down a rabbit hole with stabbing keyboard notes and a John Cage-like piano floating above a swirling synth.
Dictionary (Handwritten) was released by power-house Tokyo indie label Call And Response Records with a diverse roster of bands well worth checking out.