, April 5th, 2013 10:10
In a poem entitled 'so you want to be a writer', the pulp novelist Charles Bukowski said, "if it doesn't come bursting out of you... don't do it.” And, as a general rule, this is how it should be. There's no point in simply going through the motions. Of course, even if it does come "bursting out of you", it's not a guarantee that it's going to be any good. Back in 1996 I was so fired up by a drunken conversation I was having with a friend about an idea for a book that I ran home and stayed up for three days straight smoking Marlboro Red and spewing forth a "novel" that previously I hadn't been aware was inside of me. But when I read it back (once the ensuing panic attacks brought on by this sudden burst of creativity, lack of sleep and too much nicotine had subsided) I wished that it had stayed where it was. It was truly dismal. But the point Bukowski makes is salient – sometimes it (where "it” is something creative, be it art, literature or music) is just not worth bothering with if it's not pouring out of every orifice in your body.
When listening to Seabed, the debut album from the South London R&S-signed UK R&B trio Vondelpark, the overriding feeling is that this didn't come gushing "unasked” out of their "heart and minds and mouth and guts”. It was probably more of a languid trickle. When the band's equipment was stolen, including a laptop with the only existing files of what was supposed to be their debut album, Vondelpark spent the next "two months doing nothing, smoking a lot." The loss of expensive gear and priceless ideas is understandably disheartening and disruptive, but if you were a band imbued with the sort of burning creative desire that Bukowski speaks of, you might expect more anger, soul searching, beating of chests and a need to claw back what, let's face it, for most bands is the most important record they will ever make in their lives. Instead, it seems it was all, shrug, smoke pot, kick back…
Vondelpark couldn't be any more now, any more ball-achingly hip – good-looking young men making electronic-flecked R&B with guitars while signed to a credible label that made its name releasing banging techno back in the day. Before they'd even released a record Vondelpark were the subject of a Converse-sponsored film about the tribulations of being in an embryonic band, another sinister sign of the continuing corporate branding of "indie” music. But Seabed never really gets out of first gear. The general vibe given off is that of a teenager moping about in his bedroom, albeit one with the skills to emote through slick, well-produced pop music. There are easy comparisons to be made with the minimalist guitar/R&B hybrid of The xx's debut album, but where that was sparse and mysterious, Seabed is just far too tasteful and bland. Lewis Rainsbury, guitarist/bassist Alex Bailey and keyboard player Matt Law are accomplished musicians who know how to work up a groove; smooooooth and jazzy on 'Blue Again', lithe electro-funk on the title track. Seabed wouldn't sound out of place on the CD player of a naff 80s wine bar; think Sade, Acid Jazz… some of the atmospherics even recall the mystical Gaelic guff of Clannad.
'California Analgogue Dream' (a reworked version of a track from their 2010 EP) is the best example of the Vondelpark oeuvre, as over a skittering drum beat and minimal guitar lines, Rainsbury intones about going to San Diego in a sonorous baritone that sounds like James Blake yawning in a wheelie bin. Former label mate Blake is another influence on this album (Burial if you were feeling kind), partly through the shared mumbled croon, but also through the minimal snatches of vocal that weave in and out of the dubstep beats on 'Bananas (On My Biceps)'. That bizarre title suggests a sense of humour at work somewhere, but one so oblique that we're not in on the joke.
One of the best moments in the anarchic 80s sitcom The Young Ones was when Vyvyan tore the title sequence of The Good Life to shreds in a rage yelling, "NO! NO! NO! We're not watching the bloody Good Life! Bloody, bloody, BLOODY! I hate it! It's so bloody nice!" Listening to Seabed invoked similar feelings in me. It's far too bloody nice for its own good. Où est le feu?