splendid > reviews > 7/17/2004
The Horns of Happiness
The Horns of Happiness
A Sea as a Shore
Secretly Canadian

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Wonders"

Buy me now
Aaron Deer, of The Impossible Shapes and John Wilkes Booze fame, is the heart and soul of this eclectic group; he has surrounded himself with familiar players (Chris Barth, Jason Groth, Mark Rice and Peter King, all Impossible Shapes members) but changed the moniker. A mix of gentle, modern psychedelia in the vein of The Flaming Lips, and Galaxie 500-style space rock, A Sea as a Shore is surprisingly soothing and beautiful, despite its constant, violent jumps in rhythm and instrumentation. When, in the middle of "Asleep in the Already Known", the synths, loops and glitches that are bleeding out a watercolor wash of sound abruptly stop, and are replaced by a down-home plucked guitar, the transition is more hypnotic than jarring. Eventually, it gets noisier again, coming full-circle with bombastic drums and relentless guitar.

The album hangs together like hand-stitched patches in a quilt: it's a mishmash of sound, but all the colors are in the same family. Many of the songs are instrumentals, and they relate strongly to each other, their themes recurring throughout the album. On the disc's few vocal tracks, the voice is just another instrument. "Wonders" is a succulent delicacy, beginning with a few pompous piano chords and eventually incorporating a pounded piano melody, a juicy bass riff, rhythmic keyboards and a wispy accordion solo -- all in ninety seconds. The folkier "Of Whistling and Wine" follows; changes in atmosphere from song to song, and even within songs, simulate the effect of being on a Disneyland ride where you can go from sailing through a starry sky to being on Captain Hook's ship in a matter of seconds. "Under a Dim Light" approaches Philip Glass territory during a brief moment of glittering saxophone cacophony, underscored by piano mayhem fluttering down like shards of a broken skyscraper. Then, seconds later, handclaps and plucked banjo note thrust you back onto a creaky back porch in the Deep South.

The only instance in which this jumpy technique is disorienting and slightly frustrating is the unfortunate case of "A Twist of Snakes". A minute and a half into the already established song, there comes the most maddeningly gorgeous morsel -- a toy piano melody that arrives with the bravado of "Get Back Honky Cat", aching to be the next huge anthem, perfect in its absolute pop divinity. But once you're all revved up and ready for an incredible revelation, the song ends! Kudos for the amazing moment, guys, but I wanted it to be an entire, fully developed song. Talk about leaving them wanting more...

Instrumental "The Blood Trail pt.2" is another standout, creating a distinct environment (a carnival haunted house), and evoking a wide variety of feelings by weaving delightful cartoon sounds and splashes of (I believe) electric calliope with scary, discordant keyboard and piano.

A Sea is a Shore as a cohesive work feels like a living, breathing organism in a flux as constant as the sea. Instruments pant relentlessly, take deep breaths and sigh heavily, and when Chris Barth sings, "I'm breathing in this room" in "Bursting Breathe", it feels like the album's most appropriate lyric.



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