Nostalgia may be the rage in music’s chillier climes these days, but for a group on the return, like Seefeel, it’s a dangerous game: tread too close to the band’s original “sound,” perfected on a string of three albums across the mid 1990s, and it’s irrelevant; stray too far from expectations, and it’s a dilettante. Seefeel was, of course, the quiet pioneer of the Warp label, the first group signed that played guitars, and alongside Broadcast, the most forthright when it came to reconciling electronics music and pop — though by the time of Succour, its 1995 album, the latter had largely fallen by the wayside. But pioneering has a funny way of feeling old hat, 15 years on — which is precisely how long it’s been since its understated album of post-Succour flotsam, (Ch-Vox), released on Rephlex in 1996.
But to cut to the chase, Seefeel has managed somehow to reconcile all of those different responses and emotions — apprehension, expectation, impatience, the simple fear that it might bore the pants off you — and run off with the title. Seefeel takes approximately one minute to be exactly like you want Seefeel to be — at the very moment its typically denuded, spasmodic rhythm patterns kick in, on “Dead Guitars,” it can’t be anyone else. There may be two new members on board, E-Da and Shigeru Ishihara replacing Darren Seymour and Justin Fletcher, but the internal consistency of Seefeel proves that Mark Clifford and Sarah Peacock were always the torch-bearers, and if you’ve clocked what’s missing from their other (admittedly rather excellent) projects — Disjecta, Woodenspoon, Sneakster, Cliffordandcalix for Clifford, or Scala and January for Peacock — you’ll know theirs is a peculiar alchemy. For what it’s worth, E-Da and Ishihara add rock-solid heft to the bottom end, the rhythms as imposing and structurally hefty as ever, the bass navigating that airless space between the dread of dub and the amorphous drift of isolationist electronics.
But it’s ultimately all about the guitars, and if Seefeel’s first wave of releases subtly rejigged your notion of what guitars could do, turning “an orgasm into an environment,” as Simon Reynolds once memorably put it, here it has you thinking of how tough and grainy the guitar<->processing interface can be. On “Dead Guitars,” the hymned instrument hums like striplights, grinds like teeth, scrapes and claws like nails against polystyrene. Further into the album, on more extended tracks like “Step Down” and “Aug30,” some of the jouissance of yore returns, but brittle with it, as though at any moment it could go molten. It’s this kind of textural insight, a rare touch of Clifford’s in particular, that has Seefeel’s return feeling more vital than most.
It is, in short, the sound of a group confidently, and unassumingly, re-defining its own universe. As we like to say around these parts, welcome the fuck back.