It was back in 2006 when The Artificial Sea released their debut, the rather fine ‘City Island’. With the wounded sparrow vocals of Alina Simone complemented by Kevin C. Smith’s sonic meddling, they created a dark, compelling world, mixing the industrial with the pastoral. Now they’re back and just as confrontational as before.
‘Kaleidoscope’ reveals the full extent of Simone’s range in her emotionally cracked delivery (part Beth Gibbons/part folk singer) as Smith – aided by baritone guitar and cello – creates a glistening backdrop. Although this opener is hardly pop music, most of ‘Unwritten’ is far more esoteric and – to be frank – weirder. A lonely trumpet adds to the already rather moody ‘The Gift’, ‘Baited Breath’ is based on the simplest of drum loops with Simone left to fill in the wavering melodic gaps, whilst ‘Brighter Days’ wavers even further but Smith’s insistent guitar and eerie effects provide the ballast to form a very good song. Then the bravest moment of all is saved for last with a re-imagining of Ravel’s ‘Le Gibet’; a sure sign of the eerie minimalist roots which underpin The Artificial Sea’s performances.
With their innovative and uncompromising take on torch songs, comparisons will inevitably be made to Portishead. However, that’s certainly no bad thing since this is another group of musicians prepared to experiment; leaving an indelible impression on any style they take on.