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Posted on June 18th, 2015 (2:00 pm) by N. Neal Paradise

Daft Punk.

Okay, got that in your mind? Good. Now take away the robot costumes, the quirkiness and the guest vocalists. Make sure you keep the ‘70s beat, the ‘80s sensibilities, and the sense of wonder for pioneers like Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk. Stir once or twice, freeze overnight and viola! You have Seoul.

Unfortunately for Seoul, when you took away all those things, you were also taking away Daft Punk’s boundless imagination and penchant for adventure. What you’re left with is I Become a Shade, a record that takes no risks, heeds all signs, and plays it safe from beginning to end.

There are worse things. Seoul could have decided to abandon their reverence for the past and replaced it with esotericism. They could have risked alienating their audience by getting super-weird. Let’s be honest – that kind of thing only works for Radiohead. As it stands, I Become a Shade is only a little weird, just over the threshold of cookie-cutter. It won’t make you scream and run, reel in shock, or even scratch your head. Everything Seoul does has been done before, and proven safe.

And that’s it, really. ‘80s synthpop and ‘70s disco are not new (hence the tags ‘80s and ‘70s), nor is their combination or even their updating to modern, digital instruments. Seoul have a rich garden to sample from, and sample they do; they pick the fruits that others have picked before them, fruits they know taste good. And the result is music that’s pretty, pleasing, unsurprising and entirely uninteresting.

The Daft Punk comparison isn’t quite fair in of itself. After all, Seoul are employing tropes and classical models just as much as Daft Punk are, and often from the same source. And honestly, Seoul are pretty good at it. All of I Become a Shade is unbelievably lush and comforting. Borrowing from ‘70s concept albums like Days of Future Past, 4 of the songs are instrumental interludes, more like soundscapes than actual songs. These places in particular are where Seoul envelopes the listener in a cloud of sleepy synths that evoke nature, amazingly. “The Line,” “I Negate” and “Real June,” simultaneously lull us to sleep and keep us awake with a steadybeat pulse. And on “Stay With Us” and “Silencer,” they use disco beats and danceable infectiousness to try and get your body moving. But ultimately, the overarching mode of the album (one of relaxing and breathing deeply) battles Seoul’s occasional attempts at dancefloor glory – and it wins.

“Stay With Us” is the album’s big single, but it presents a side of I Become a Shade that’s a little disingenuous. There’s no need to back into the album’s calmness with the most exciting song (read as: not that much). Never mind that “Stay With Us” is truly just a poor man’s “Get Lucky.” Seoul are more than simply apers of better bands, but “Stay With Us” is exactly that: an aping of a better band.

While I Become a Shade’s play-it-safe ethos is frustrating, it ultimately generates a shrug. Why should we care about this album when all it tries to do is take away our cares? It’s not like I Become a Shade is overtly positive – quite the opposite, in places. In the end, Seoul doesn’t create enough of a sense of importance to make them rise above all the Daft Punks out there. Some robot costumes may help, though…

Track List:

  1. I Become a Shade
  2. The Line
  3. Haunt/A Light
  4. Real June
  5. Fields
  6. White Morning
  7. Stay With Us
  8. Thought You Were
  9. I Negate
  10. Carrying Home Food In Winter
  11. Silencer
  12. Galway
Seoul: I Become a Shade
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

49 / 100
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