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This record will give you the Seabee-jeebies

This record will give you the Seabee-jeebies

All We Seabees have slowed things down a bit. That may be a matter of necessity—singer and main songwriter Bryan Fox recently relocated, at least temporarily, to Knoxville—but with their new album MKultra, it has also come as a welcome choice. "Our last two albums were done in a spastic manner," Fox says. "Both took no more than three days to record and both were done in homes that we lived in. This was the first time we had equipment outside of our own grasp and a studio to fiddle with it. New keys, new pedals and sounds.... I know this record represents that."

Recorded by Umbrella Tree's Zachary Gresham and released on that band's label, Cephalopod, MKultra finds the Seabees fleshing out their sound while revisiting some of the lyrical themes familiar to fans of the band's other work: geographic dislocation, loss, deception, friendship. Opening the album, the band compresses a life's worth of influences into a little over four minutes and arranges them like photos on a timeline. Opening with an a cappella chant that recalls the spirituals of a bygone and unrecorded era—and hovers achingly close to the melody of "Amazing Grace"—"Tigers" leans into a banjo-led shuffle, then strides slowly but strongly toward an electrifying finish filled with churning crash cymbals and overdriven guitars. It's a song that favorably recalls the folk-fuzz of Neutral Milk Hotel while retaining the Seabees' unusual, characteristic lilt.

Though the band already proved their skill at pleasingly lush, almost rustic numbers on the interstitial EP Lady Alaska (and again on MKultra with more subdued songs like "Hartsy Fartsy" and "Needle"), they are at their best when the pace is quicker and the songs become tense and foreboding. On "Alt Country," Fox's melody is relentless and accusatory, and he sings like he's digging by hand through his own song to find some kernel of truth to hoist out of it: "Everyone's returning back to the South / Though they don't really mean it, it carries no clout... / But you're returning, are you returning or are you just walking?" As someone who, in his own words, "fled Detroit" three years ago for Tennessee, Fox might not even know the answer himself. But he leads his battalion of Seabees through a thoughtful and beguiling album, one with many questions worth asking.

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