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Montreal dream pop trio Seoul are looking for a place to belong. Throughout their debut, I Become a Shade, the band tackles the theme of dissatisfaction, trying to navigate through their malaise to find some sense of security. Over the course of 12 serene but mostly weightless tracks, Seoul settle for a sort of complacency, being OK with getting lost in uncertainty.
Early in the album, on the shimmering single “Haunt / A Light”, the band captures the feeling of being overwhelmed and isolated in a place brimming with people, repeating how they feel stuck in “this miserable city.” It’s as if they’re unsure whether that discomfort comes from without or within. The song is a solid distillation of the record’s themes as a whole: Rather than trying to fight this feeling of restlessness, they surrender themselves.
One thing that Seoul has grown comfortable with is playing with each other. Julian Flavin, Dexter Garcia, and Nigel Ward made their live debut in 2013, but they’ve been writing songs together since 2010, taking the time in between to fulfill university obligations. The idea for I Become a Shade was formed in 2013, and the time they took putting the album together is apparent. Every sound on the record is intricately recorded and arranged, almost to the point where the tinkering has removed some of the immediacy and energy that may have been present at one point.
More melancholy than dream pop contemporaries Yumi Zouma or Wild Nothing, the album is less about the thrill and rush of the night than the comedown the next morning when you’re unsure how to proceed. Much of the album finds the band wandering, but its brightest spots come when they lock into a driving momentum, and the soaring hooks of “Real June” almost pass for early Phoenix. Seoul has a knack for hooks and structure, and songs like “Silencer” realize the grand scope of what they’re capable of. I Become a Shade is broken into mini-suites, separated by fragmented, listless interludes, adding to the meandering feeling of the record especially as it moves to its quiet finish.
On one hand, Seoul do a fine job of capturing a sense of drifting in a place where you feel like you can’t control what’s going on. The problem is that in that sense of lifelessness, the record often feels limp, with splashes of potential for so much more. The pieces are there, but Seoul hasn’t quite made them fit.