Seoul is one of the largest cities in the world; not just the capital of South Korea, but also the growing global capital of the tech industry, K-pop, and plastic surgery. Seoul is also the chosen collective moniker of Montreal-based Julian Flavin, Dexter Garcia, and Nigel Ward, who together make dream-pop music that recalls nothing of their namesake metropolis.
Somehow, though, "Seoul" feels like a remarkably fitting name for the project, perhaps because the English pronunciation ("soul") has a sort of mystic connotation, or perhaps due to the music's escapist quality and the way it comes off as an urban dweller's sunshiny fantasy. On the trio's long-anticipated debut LP, I Become A Shade, out now on Grand Jury, the band doesn't contend so much with city life itself but rather with the moments that get lost amid a metropolitan backdrop.
The twelve-track album comes nearly two years after Seoul debuted their very first song, "Stay With Us," which now stands as the centerpiece of Shade with its hypnotic funk sound, encompassing both the band's penchant for sugary, danceable beats and their relaxed, sometimes highly introspective tendencies. The latter facet may come as a surprise to some who have been following the hype around these guys since they first emerged in 2013—much was made of the trio's "enigmatic" presentation, but their released material (they shared "White Morning" in April of last year) was such pure, blissful pop that it would've been easy to write them off as another one-trick pony. But Seoul have got a little more up their sleeves than just catchy hooks.
The album’s first official single and third track, “Haunt / A Light,” is an upbeat, breezy number, but lyrically it speaks to a very “quarter-life crisis” kind of feeling. The band members themselves say the song is about the “seemingly perpetual state of not having an answer” and the push and pull between feeling inadequate and feeling content. “Is it just me?” they ask themselves, conveying this sense of isolation within a dreamscape.
Seoul accomplish this delicate balance of the saccharine and the melancholy again and again with aplomb, bringing to mind acts like Washed Out and The Radio Dept., but the second half of Shade leans decidedly more towards the pensive side of things. “Carrying Home Food for Winter,” for example, stands out as meditative and visceral, beautiful yet a little unsettling. Closing track “Galway” is mostly instrumental, soaked in wobbly reverb, and ends up feeling both gauzy and gummy. And interspersed among the tracks are two little interludes, “Fields” and “Thought You Were,” which are both lovely pieces with soft, sparkling guitar work that shines like stray sunlight through a drapery.
So, despite several tracks being more than worthy of the dance floor at a rooftop party, the record overall ends up feeling quite reflective and rather nuanced. It hints at a wellspring of potential for Seoul, but for the present, I Become A Shade is a perfect summer staple.