There’s much to complain about in 2016–elections, institutionalized bias, the climate, etc. But the current 80s revival is not one of them. Seemingly brought to a fever pitch by Survive and the Stranger Things soundtrack (though even It Follows had a wonderfully 80s themed score), the sound has reached its peak abstraction in The Seshen‘s latest release, Flames & Figures. Airy synths and buzzing bass create a quilt for their vocals to weave into.
While the first track of Flames & Figures sets up the album’s themes and sounds, the record really begins with “Right Here.” The track throws a highly modulated bass arpeggio against a simple kick-snare drum pattern–simple enough. Then the vocals hit. Their melody’s syncopation add the perfect organic counterpoint to the track’s highly produced feel. If you aren’t hooked by the time the chorus starts, you should check your pulse because you might be dead.
Throughout Flames & Figures, there are hints of Janelle Monae, darkwave, Liane La Havas, Phox, and soul revival, which is a lot to say that The Seshen sounds like nothing you’ve heard before without being completely strange. The Seshen’s pop sensibilities shine through even their most bit crushed tracks (like “Already Gone” or “Fallen Skies”). This tonal juxtaposition between hook filled pop and distorted beats moves the album from simple classification into a hybrid work.
But The Seshen isn’t completely pop flash and danceable noise. The album’s title track is a slow burner–spinning out its melodies like FKA Twigs at her most ethereal. A viper pit of repetition kept in check my the mix-forward beat, “Flames & Figures” twists and turns through its parts with a reptilian control, meaning it knows what it wants to achieve and snatches it from the air. Equally beautiful and gut wrenching, the album’s title track works nicely as a hinge to the album.
This isn’t to say the album is without its faults. Some songs fall flat on first listen; other songs seem to repeat too much the album’s theme. That said, Flames & Figures might be one of those album’s whose feel and tone change dramatically from first and hundredth listen. Whether or not I find every song on the album compelling, I can say with certainty that from beginning to end Flames & Figures is one of those rare pop albums that have been expertly crafted. Even at its weakest points, the album stores kernels of smarter-than-average pop within its grooves.
One of the most exciting moments of the album comes in its final song, “Colors Collide.” The song’s instrumentals buzz western–grinding out a sort of Ennio Morricone rephrasal before the vocals churn their layered harmonies through the mix. Exploding from this point into a dark disco beat, “Colors Collide” seems a weird song to end an album. It is fast paced and evocative, it opens Flames & Figures rather than close it. The final track is partially what will make you flip this record back to side A and listen to the thing again.