Mad Scene

Sealight

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    8
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Recorded in New York but a pure slice of lovely New Zealand pop/rock heaven, Sealight is further proof that the Mad Scene have an ear for instantly appealing music. In comparison to, say, the equally talented but admittedly repetitive Bats, Hamish Kilgour's crew lets the variety really flow forth, especially given that everyone but drummer Bill Gerstel splits the songwriting in numerous combinations. Kilgour's light, quietly passionate voice balances against Lisa Seagul's slightly more withdrawn but not buried performances very well, and both have excellent knacks for wonderful guitar melodies and often sharp lyrical turns. Collectively, the Mad Scene create music that on the one hand is instantly identifiable indie rock and on the other finds its own particular way; it's certainly a product of New Zealand's wonderful traditions, though -- sweetness mixed with a definite melancholy and slow-burn intensity. One of Kilgour's best moments along these lines is "Gotta Get Back (To Something)," starting with a stripped-down, slightly tense arrangement that vaguely hints at Middle Eastern melodies via surf here and there, alternating with just gentler enough sections in a give and take that's subtle instead of forced and obvious. "Marching Song," a beautifully hushed number that builds to a sudden climax before sudden calming down, is another standout, John Sluggett's guest turn on piano worthy of note. Seagul's winners include "Birthday Party," a quietly majestic vision of a hesitant romance not really happening (her lead guitar here is particularly grand, swooping sadly in the background) and the slow, semi-waltz-time lope of "Hoping." On Seagul's wonderful, near-solo "Silhouette," the mix of instruments used by the band and various guests -- clarinet, trumpet, Casio keyboards, and even African slit drum at one point -- gives Sealight a lushness without being overbearing.

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