Philadelphia-based duo Sea Offs do not try to play mysterious in their debut album. Between the title, What’s The Point?, and the poignant songwriting (right from the first track: “I have fallen in a peace I never wanted/I have chosen to burn the weight of systemic shame”), Olivia Price and Rashmit Arora are up-front about their self-aware and self-reflective nature. The soft tone of this dream folk record, combined with thoughtful lyrics and minimal instrumentation, makes for a truly exemplary first full showing by the band.
With the practice of releasing singles being as popular as it is, it’s easy to forget how much the sequencing of an album can impact the artistry of it. Sea Offs have not forgotten this. Over the course of eight tracks, the songs seem to get more and more personal, from the accusatory tone of “Runaway” to the nearly mournful “The Pining”—so the album plays like a diary, a particularly eloquent dialogue with the self and with absent figures. In addition, the band waits until four tracks in –when the audience is accustomed to Price’s smooth, ethereal vocals– to introduce Arora’s voice, which is raspier and more lilting. This track, “A Leap Too Tall”, is also the first time we hear the band use electronic elements, which struck me as very Bon Iver circa 22, A Million. It’s from here out in the album that songs get more abstract, as if the thoughts behind them are coming more fleetingly. This is just another facet of the implied narrative of the album.
As for the actual musicianship, I have no less praise. As far as I’m concerned, Olivia Price fits in a class with Daughter’s Elena Tonra, both having such clear, emotional voices. Price also possesses a quality that’s refreshing to hear: she saves her crescendos. Too often, I hear vocalists that are aggressive and bold from start to end of an album. It gets both overwhelming and boring, but there is no such issue with Price. Her vocals are so understated that I could hardly say we got a vocal crescendo in each song—in fact, the biggest build doesn’t come until the final track, “The Pining”, in its last half. That’s a wise decision, because it makes the emotional release of such vocals much more impressive, and it also lets the listener appreciate Price’s vocals without the flashiness of belting or runs.
It’s also important that the album has limited instrumentation; to put it better, the background to Price’s (and later, Arora’s) voice isn’t noisy. Price, Arora and the team of instrumentalists that contributed to this album more than succeeded in this. Vocals dominate each track, which in turn means that Price and Arora’s beautiful songwriting dominates, but at the same time, the instrumentation is compelling and dynamic, not in the least repetitive or dull. In many ways, the instrumentation is part of what elevates this album from easy listening to a piece of art.
This is a gem of an album, one you can play on loop and take apart lyrically in dozens of ways. (Do yourself a favor and listen to the rain while you do.) It’s what I sometimes refer to as a “security blanket album”; one to which you want to snuggle up and hunker down for the night. My own first impression of the album (as tweeted) doubles as my listening advice: drink tea to it, and to this album, remind yourself that you are complete and going to be okay. Because as the band so kindly responded: “You are, indeed, complete, and you are, in fact, going to be okay.”