Nothing that Bay Area group The Seshen does is small or half-assed. With singer/songwriter Lalin St. Juste and bassist/producer Akiyoshi Ehara at the helm, the band has grown to include five other members, including another singer, a drummer, a percussionist, a keyboard/synth player, and a sampler. With seven people total, their influences run the gamut from Erykah Badu to Radiohead. Now, after two successful EPs, The Seshen’s first full-length includes a whopping thirteen tracks of well-honed pop, each brandishing different parts of their various spectrums of influences and sounds.
On Flames & Figures, The Seshen mixes electro-pop with neo-soul, ‘80s synth sounds with more contemporary flavors, and recognizable pop tropes with more soul-bearing and personal lyrics. Starting with “Distant Heart,” the opener and first single from the album, St. Juste uses retro synths as a jumping-off point for a vulnerable song couched in an upbeat melody, all relayed in a soulful voice. “You tried to keep it together / But it just falls apart,” she sings over a bouncing electronic bass. Even when the synths fall into video game territory, as in the mallets on “Right Here,” the singer keeps the music solidly grounded.
St. Juste provides a focal point amid busy, complicated instrumental parts. In “Other Spaces,” intricate percussion lines dance around quiet and evasive synth lines, but the vocal line that floats above the fray lends clarity as the song patiently builds. The Seshen is less successful, though, when St. Juste’s singing aligns too closely with the background. “Firewalker,” for example, a song that begins strongly with an easy drum loop, off-kilter synth chords, and a strong melody, soon loses its sharpness with a jazz-tinged melody that doesn’t provide enough structure against the bustling instrumental parts.
Elsewhere, though, The Seshen doesn’t fear paring down. Some of Flames & Figure’s most powerful moments are also its simplest. The title track, which begins with St. Juste’s voice close and raw over keys and a light touch of echoing synth flourishes and switches halfway through into a restrained electronic composition, allows emphasis on the longing in the singer’s voice and lyrics (“I just wanna see you / Wanna get closer”). On “Spectacle,” St. Juste finds the spaces in an eerie-yet-buoyant composition of deep bass, prominent drum loop, and flute sound, disguising an existentially distressing chorus—“We learn to love the pretense / And the emptiness expands”—in a breezy but satisfying melody.
Between seven members, thirteen tracks, and countless musical influences, The Seshen has created a beautifully focused album. Crafted around St. Juste’s tender voice and its messages of love and love lost, femininity, and power, Flames & Figures is a delightful mix of its constituent sounds that, ultimately, has transformed completely into its own.