Seeland: Tomorrow Today

Once upon a time (1999 to be exact), an English outfit named Plone released the wonderful album For Beginner Piano on Warp and then just as promptly disappeared. Thankfully the vanishing act wasn't permanent and Mike “Billy” Bainbridge, one of three men behind the Plone curtain, now returns in partnership with ex-Broadcast member Tim Felton under the name Seeland (recent recruit Neil McAuley handles bass). The pair actually came together in late 2004 in the wake of the collapse of what's come to be known as Birmingham's “Retro Futurist Electronic scene,” a name used to collectively describe a number of producers whose work was inspired by space age pop, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and ‘60s library music. Tomorrow Today isn't Seeland's coming-out, by the way, as the duo previously issued two singles on Stereolab's Duophonic imprint. Regardless, Seeland strikes pay dirt on Tomorrow Today with three-minute songs whose effervescent charm and ample hooks will resonate in your head long after the music ends (“Library,” with its “I know there's a fire” refrain, one example of many). The vocals, somewhat like a more polished Richard Hawley but with less character, are modestly appealing (both members are credited with vocals) but these songs are not primarily about vocal character: the singing is one element of a great many in ornate arrangements that sometimes sparkle so much they recall the Sunflower-era Beach Boys.

Seeland covers many bases in the dozen pieces, everything from vibrant electropop (“Burning Pages”) to shoegaze sparkle (“Station Sky”) and stately electro-lullabies (“Call the Incredible”). With afro-pop guitars reminiscent of Talking Heads' Remain In Light, “Hang On Lucifer” offers three minutes of whooshing krautrock-pop bliss, and even adds a fuzz-toned guitar solo to its rocking rhythms (Felton also layers electric guitars into a beehive swarm during the motorik “Static Object”). The upbeat “Captured” finds Seeland sharing Stereolab's affection for breezy ‘60s Motown rhythms. Echoes of Plone surface briefly appear in the glorious opening of “Turnaround,” and the wondrous “5 A.M.” could legitimately be characterized as Plone-with-vocals. In a just world, dreamy electro-pop songs like “Turnaround” and “Colour Dream” would be toppling Beyoncé from the top of the charts. Though Seeland crafts its old-school sound using vintage analogue synths, electric guitars, glockenspiels, and drum machines, its fusion of spacey electronic elements with a strongly melodic pop sensibility is anything but stale.

March 2009