Sea Charms ~ Mystery Tapes

I’ve fallen fast for these Sea Charms.  This is a fun, homespun project, with Crystal on synth and Jess on sax.  The first two Mystery Tapes are taken from practice sessions, reflecting free-flowing, semi-improvisational play.  Add some arts and crafts ~ plastic toys, garbage bag outfits, colorful cover paintings ~ and a memorable impression is formed.  How can one resist the laughter (the first track, “M”), the dancing (the video for “Norah Moves In”), the sense of glee?  These two are having a blast, and we suspect their live shows are the opposite of glum.  One can be indie without being hipster or twee.  Sea Charms show us how it’s done.

Mystery Tape Vol. 01 breezes by swiftly, as five of the nine tracks don’t even make it to a minute, and one is a second longer.  We can picture Crystal and Jess daring a crowd to hold their breath through an entire song.  Hitting that 8-minute “S” is a surprise, but a trance slowly forms like the accumulation of smoke in a club.  After this, the recording turns into an odd sort of mix tape, populated by loops and whispers.  “R” adds a bit of structure, and one begins to intuit a (very loose) plan.  Is the duo preparing for something special?  We’ll let our readers decide ~ suffice it to say that everything about Mystery Tape Vol. II is different, from the Roman numeral to the two-letter titles to the fact that the baby tracks have all grown up, the littlest now over two minutes long.

“MY” and “ST” ease in like the warm-up of a small orchestra.  There’s a real sense of flow to this twinned piece, for the first time a lot like a sea charm, with the sax like a foghorn cutting over the waves of the synth.  By the centerpiece, “ER”, one has the feeling that the duo is trying their hand at a comprehensive set rather than a splice-and-dice.  The synth sounds occasionally like a violin, coquettish yet confident.  Remembering that these are practice sessions, one wonders what would happen in a studio ~ would the DIY charm be sloughed off, or would the catchiness be honed?  One can imagine “YT”/”AP” as a shortened piece, with the “Batman” brass highlighted and the late percussion amplified, but the current appeal of the track is the impression of spontaneity.

Are these Mystery Tapes mysterious?  Yes.  Are these Sea Charms charming?  Yes again.  Their next live appearance is an inspired pairing ~ if you happen to be in Oakland next month, you can catch them at the Octopus Literary Salon.  (Richard Allen)

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