In another world not far off from our own, teenagers in Nebraska are skipping school to make out to SeepeopleS songs behind the faculty parking lots. In this one, the 20-year-running pop-confection project of Will Bradford and Brooke Binion has released another meticulous, painstakingly crafted release of psychedelic pop songs, while the Flaming Lips sell hundreds of records a day by name recognition alone.
The last we heard from the Portland quartet was their massive double-album Dead Souls Sessions in 2015, a release as impressive in its execution as it was undigestible by its size. SeepeopleS tracks aren't necessary difficult, but they're often complex. On Dead Souls they could be both, but listeners will find that Hate, an EP with a compact five-song helping (and the first in a three-EP set), is an excellent avenue into the band's weird, cerebral art-pop.
Not halfway into opener "Burning Bridge" and Bradford has already pulled the lines of two equally infectious arrangements against each other, deftly spinning the song's verse and refrain as ambient eletronic hums, boops, and whirs float in the background. The sugary beach-pop throwback "Just Like the Animals" packs tension and unease into its content ("40 minutes in the parking lot, just waiting for a pill to drop / Somebody's looking out for cops, sometimes it seems so impossible."), juxtaposing oneiric, psych-mess verses with a driving power-pop chorus.
While surely cathartic to play, the decision to re-work "New American Dream" from the band's back catalogue and its cynical fantasies about "being the president" and "killing everyone" seems a questionable one. A straightforward pop-punk blazer, it's the least enjoyable of the bunch and far more on-the-nose than their newer work, but it's timely, and paired with an impressive and overtly political new video (designed by animator Pete List of Celebrity Death Match/MTV), it's an understandable outreach decision. Nonetheless, the band's new material shines. The lilting, lovely ballad "Scapegoat" echoes the versatility of iconic bands like Shudder to Think, Beauty Pill, and Blonde Redhead. And the instrumentation, in that and wistful closer "Maybe It's Your Fault," is some of the most nuanced and balanced of any Portland album I've heard in recent memory.
SeepeopleS' story is long and their back catalogue, much of it nearing 20 years old, is barely relevant to the band's sound today. Whether Bradford's in the discussion for one of the best songwriters in Maine rock music is a matter of personal taste, but he's certainly among those taking the form most seriously, and willing to grow with it as far as it'll take him.
Will Bradford of SeepeopleS, "Hate" EP release party | With Vapors of Morphine and Pretty Sad | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | www.portlandempire.com
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