When Hot Chip performed in Manchester on their joint-header tour with LCD Soundsystem, the two bands joined forces at the end of the show for a cover of the Alessi Brothers’ breezy, soft-rock gem, “Seabird”. A couple of years later, a British trio called Vondelpark, with a vocalist whose brotherly mumble resembles that of Joe Goddard, have released their debut album, Seabed, which evokes a rather similar mood.
Vondelpark make unhurried, R&B-inflected pop, which could be likened to the incremental process by which rocks pebbles shape the submarine landscape. Lewis Rainsbury, the project’s architect, likes to gently modulate and warble his voice in the same manner as James Blake; the music behind him drifts along but rarely drags – there are softly struck and gently phased guitars, a dusting of celestial synths, and jazzy rhythms that have wandered in from a late night Magic FM show. The effect is deeply therapeutic, almost guilt-inducingly so. You may relax so much you lose control of bodily functions.
On “Blue Again”, which might be one of my favorite songs on the album, the beat is augmented at the end of certain bars by a sound that will be familiar to any Mac user – it’s the sound your computer emits when you try to move the caret past the end of a body of text. The first time I noticed this, I felt like all my life I had waited for someone to recycle sounds like this one in a musical setting.
This music isn’t novel. Back in 2004, Hot Chip traded on much the same aesthetic on their debut album, Coming On Strong – and then promptly swapped it for a more hyperactive shtick. Looking a little further back, the same vibes (literally) and gently coalescing rhythms powered Tortoise’s landmark TNT. But Vondelpark inhabit a scene that’s seen, for one reason or another, as being au courant. File them next to Solange Knowles, whose reinvention as a singer-songwriter on an independent label, in collaboration with Devonté Hynes, has yielded the True EP and its lead single, “Losing You“, which relocates glacial synth tones to a slice of late-summer pop. Knowles has a slightly distant way of phrasing her vocals, and doesn’t appear to stress any of her syllables. Lewis Rainsbury’s syllables tumble out all at once, which is a kind of emotional statement of its own.
For a little while at least, the interplay between R&B and indie will continue. What perhaps began with The Weeknd’s disturbed wordplay now finds an outlet in languid pop music for gazing at stars, or shoes, or, to invert the familiar sobriquets, the blue ocean floor.