With the name Sheen Marina, this Brooklyn-based four-piece seems to like all things sunny and nautical. Chuck Thomas, Justin Mayfield, Michael Karsh, and Steven Bartashev identify their music most often as “surf-rock,” and they followed up their debut EP Coda Arms last year with a cover of the Beach Boys’ song “Gettin’ Hungry.”
As the line drawing of a web-footed monster on the art for that single suggests, though, they also have a tendency to turn a radiant day at the beach into a twisted, savage rampage. Sand, bright towels, and plastic toys remain in the picture, but they are scattered and partially buried under a thick layer of sludge and debris.
In their full-length debut, Travel Lightly, Sheen Marina jumbles their surf-rock with an eclectic mix of sounds, creating music that is challenging and off-kilter, but always tight and intriguing. Songs tend to morph as they unfold, propelled by the play of tension and release, accessibility and dissonance. Opening on “WYSC,” the album gets through about 11 seconds of rattling percussion and pretty synth before the vocal melody hits its first unexpected note and guitars burst in playing an ominous chord progression. Switching several more times, the song also hits moments of noise rock, art rock, and even a hint of pop punk, all guided by the calculated complexity of math rock. And that’s just the first song.
Throughout Travel Lightly, the band journeys to surreal sunsets (“Chasing the orange cream sunset dreams / She's a firecracker,” they sing in “Nose Ring Boring”); tales of California that are equally head-bobbing and hair-raising (“Fever Dreams”); tunes with jangly verses, shrieking choruses, and a hint of Radiohead in the vocals (“Wax Lens”); and glitchy, jittery guitar-driven collages (“Ugly Viper” and others). Sometimes Sheen Marina paints abstract images, as in “Nose Ring Boring,” while at other times, they tackle the modern world and the psyche with poignancy and directness (“I've got to go to the edge of a digital world where I can find my soul,” they sing in “Swipe”).
One thing remains in all those travels: There's always a weird, ominous creature lurking under the surface. Take “Summer Sunshine People,” the track whose title indicates that it might deliver on the promise in Sheen Marina’s name and genre. Sometimes it does—its vocal and guitar melodies offer enough bounce to grasp onto. But at the end of each catchy line waits a different discordant surprise, and the refrain repeats, “Empty, my life is empty.” The summer sunshine people are surprisingly dark and gloomy, but the song still emits a radiant, magnetic energy. Travel Lightly is a trip to a strange seashore, but we suggest you start packing your beach bag now.