Something remarkable is going on here and it’s great to watch and listen. Two observations to start with, once again the duo Seashaped, made up of Pete Gustard and Alison Riley, have poured their hearts and souls into their new album “Children of the Universe”, and it has paid off, as this not only equals their previous release, ‘A Pill for Everything’, but surpasses it. The second reflection is that Seashaped stick to building everything around the basic 6-string sound of an acoustic guitar. Only this time there are more musical and vocal layers to peel away discover and savor.
This in itself should encourage you to buy it, since “Children of the Universe” is a triumphant classic and while its stays firmly within the orbit of harmony, alt-folk and alternative rock, it marks a substantial and mature progression for this Manchester duo. This is particularly pronounced in terms of the duo’s songwriting skills which take off into the stratosphere producing some of the greatest soaring and ethereal harmony and counter-harmony singing this side of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Start with the brilliant title track, which also happens to be the album closer. This song is divided various soft-loud parts. Firstly it opens with an introspective piano-guitar set, which leads to a sublime robotic vocal verse, then moving into a musical tour de force with vocals, music and crunchy guitar solos causing deliberate havoc and confusion, which in turn swings into a counter harmony workout between Pete Gustard and Alison Riley. It is easily one of their best and most interesting songs from a creative perspective, but it is matched on the album with equally robust arrangements and bold contributions, such as, “Nothing Gets Simpler” and “Millions and Millions”.
Most bands either try to change too much from one album to the next and in the process lose their sound, or they just rehash their previous works and reveal themselves as one-trick ponies. Seashaped do neither of these things; this album very different, but not too different. Does that make sense? Yes it does!
The combination of dreamy harmonies, intelligent lyrics, acoustic-based melodies, creative composition and a rather intangible phenomenon created by the vocals is not too different from the previous album.
The fact that on “Children of the Universe”, Seashaped possess a sound which is at once totally hypnotic, intoxicating and liberating, perfectly encapsulating the aforementioned qualities, and which on subsequent listens only becomes more intense – is very different!
There is something devout about Pete Gustard and Alison Riley’s vocal deliveries. In all the songs, they come in like the sunlight and fade away like a rainbow. They tell their stories and sing with a kind of passerby’s nonchalance, which is incredibly attractive to the ear. This is most evident on “Wild Swimming”, “Heart Undone”, “Small Town” and “Mother” The only other band, for me, with this similar ‘nonchalance’ singing quality present in their songs, is REM.
It is virtually impossible to have a favorite song on this album but if I had to pick one – for the style, empathy and the emotion of the song – it would be “Nothing Gets Simpler”. Slow, smooth, wavy echoes of thick sound, you can almost taste.
Their music has matured but Seashaped have also remained true to their roots. I love their voices, their harmony and haunting sound – and now that I have become a dedicated fan of Pete Gustard and Alison Riley, I can see myself listening to their music for a very, very long time to come!