These days sheer joy is like pornography, and sunny tunes the equivalent of smut. But as strange as cheer is, it’s never unwelcome. That’s what Seedy And The Years’ debut sounds like: a weird, unexpected shot of sugar in a bitter-gourd world. ‘Downshift’ is, ultimately, a reverse gear-shift away from the wretchedness of modern life. The band probably meant something far more innocent – and far less sinister – with that title, but we tip our hat anyway.
The material for the seven-track EP released in August was culled from the quick Portastudio sessions dashed off by US-based singer David Llorente and drummer Carlo Manalo in 2016. Llorente was in Manila for a brief visit, and the duo wasted no time in cutting the demos. Two years later, Manalo would share two of the tracks (‘Day Before’ and ‘Younger’) with label Offshore Music [editor’s note: the reviewer’s band Pamphleteer is also an Offshore Music artist].
The strength of those two songs – the former a jangly affair, the latter a cheesy stab at reggae – would be the foundation of their enlistment to the label. From their intended 10 tracks, we’re instead regaled with a compact seven, all rerecorded at Crow’s Nest Studio with producer Audry Dionisio helming the sessions and their singer tracking from Saratoga.
As a first offering, ‘Downshift’ is a decidedly mixed bag whose making cannot be dissociated from the prism of the band’s collective ’90s upbringing. That prism, however, is refracted through a kind of early-aughts, major-seventh indie optimism, which permeates most of the collection. This quality perhaps peaks in ‘Vacation’, which edges towards twee territory, and the aforementioned ‘Day Before’, the EP’s buoyant standout single.
‘Downshift’ is a veritable snapshot of a band in its starry-eyed infancy, unperturbed by creative hang-ups and unbothered by artifice. The mixes are mirrors rather than filters, and Dionisio does a fine job of presenting that photograph in all its sparseness. It’s a light listen, and while the data doesn’t take up much space – in a manner of speaking – it does get etched in memory. No matter the complexity, a memorable melody is hard to beat.
Despite being weaned on disparate musical leanings – stoner rock, hard funk, some King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, the occasional Marvin Gaye – the band defer to the spirit of Llorente’s pieces, which sound like they owe more to Belle and Sebastian (if you’re in your forties) or Atlas Genius (if you’re in your twenties) than to psych rock or furrowed-brow folk.
Feel-good material can fall prey to cookie-cutter monotony. But the portents are great for Seedy, whose penchant for the palatable is countered by forays into the dissonant, as evidenced in opening track ‘Be Happy’, which transforms a meandering chord progression into a flower of a chorus. It’s also in the campfire melancholy of ‘Holiday’, with its stop-and-go rhythms and tense melodic interplay.
There’s some great singing in here, too, and while Llorente won’t tickle the pants off a talent-search panel, he more than makes up for it in surplus of character. The instrumentation, meanwhile, doesn’t go off the rails but doesn’t slack off, either. Parallel undercurrents of shoegaze (‘I Don’t Mind’) and funk (‘Song for No Name’) are not something you hear every day, and while these tendencies are downplayed at best, their aftertastes are unmistakable.
Guitarist Ray Bonifacio is dexterous in the best possible way, generous in his adoption of warring styles; any player who can take a backseat while holding it down beautifully deserves applause. The same can be said of bassist Daetrick Aquino and drummer Carlo Manalo, whose chemistry lends colour and movement to what would otherwise be straight-up numbers. Synth player Eboy Bautista, who’s saddled with the responsibility of texture, is no slouch either.
Seedy may be young in years, but their maturity on disc is a great refresher in a time-tested music lesson: you don’t mess with a good melody; you let it piggyback on musicality.
And what’s musicality but a hostage negotiation resolved through economy?
- Release date: August 14
- Record label: Offshore Music