Those of us over here in the tiny corner of America known as Brooklyn tend to forget that we are in a tiny corner of America. Not that Brooklyn doesn’t have all sorts of cultural weight. When I first moved here, a Finnish girl I’d just met asked me if Roberta’s was really as good as everyone said. At the time I didn’t even know what Roberta’s was, and I was amazed to find out it was…a pizza place in Bushwick (Granted, it’s an amazing one, and calling it a pizza place doesn’t really do justice to how nice it is, but still). Because NYC is home to so many writers and publicists and videographers, and because everyone loves to publicize their friends, bands from Brooklyn, like pizza places, tend to take on cultural significance all out of proportion to their skill.
But while teenagers the world over thrill to the thought of Williamsburg, there is a quiet, steady stream of good music coming from the substantially larger Rest Of America (it’s true! Look at a map!) . Places such as Cincinnati, whence we have The Seedy Seeds, a duo-turned-trio currently composed of Margaret Darling, Mike Ingram, and Brian Penick. Their PR material is blessedly brief (we’re talking two sentences, one of which is about their dietary preferences), but I can tell you that what The Seedy Seeds do best, aside from write cheery pop songs with thoughtful lyrics and dreamy vocal harmonies, is swirl electronic and acoustic elements together in such a way as to make them sound like parts of a whole. The roles of the two types of instrument aren’t segregated at all. Live drums lock into drum machines to form a percussion section, as if the drummer had one arm in each world; banjo and Korg share the stage at live shows; synth bass bubbles under acoustic guitar strums; human grunts become sampled percussive sounds, landing squarely in the territory between acoustic and electronic sound; accordion and violin surge in to replace synth pads; Casio handclaps abound. This whole complicated balancing act is then laid at the feet of songs that are unapologetically hooky and fun, with lyrics that at first appear planted squarely in the heart-on-sleeve world of boy girl synth pop, but which reveal layers of ambiguity on further listens.
Ampeater A-Side “Verb Noun,” drawn from the band’s hot off the presses Verb Noun LP, contains a moment that perfectly captures this acoustic/electronic melting pot. At 3:23, the drums drop out, leaving the vocals to rise above a pointillist forest of pizzicato violin, banjo plucks, and staccato synthesizer notes. The three sounds, spread across the stereo spectrum, mimic and mirror one another so closely that I’m still not actually sure which notes come from which instrument, and whether what I’m hearing as a synth is really a synth or whether it’s another violin track or even some speedy, clean picking on the banjo. Of course, the beauty of the moment is just that: it doesn’t even matter which sounds are acoustic in nature and which electronic. They all twine together so perfectly that they become one instrument, an instrument we’ve never heard before. The song itself goes through a number of phases of instrumentation, but wastes no time in snagging your ear on suspended bass and violin lines, light hearted acoustic guitar, expansive drums propelled along by the propulsive kick drum on the upbeats, and Darling and Ingram’s voices woven together in pristine harmony. The Seedy Seeds are not fucking around: this is a pop song.
“Verb Noun” is such a pop song that it doesn’t even really seem to have verses, leaping from one soaring chorus-like melody to another for its entire duration. Along the way there are gushes of harmonized violins (note the way they move parallel to the vocals in the just verb noun you’ll agree section, serving almost as a chorus of vocal harmonies), assorted unidentifiable percussion (cowbell?), a banjo breakdown, lush call and response vocals, and a half-time drum machine beat laid over a full drum kit (which creates a strange slow-motion effect during the fade).
B-side “Telephone the Constrictor,” from 2010’s Roll Deep EP makes heavier use of electronics, with the whole song built around a thumping disco-derived chorus and an oscillating organ sound that calls to mind a ringing phone. Most of the percussion in the first verse is derived from voices (appropriate to the title/theme), whether they be Ingram’s chopped up vocals or some Graceland-style grunts, which fit into the song as snug as a puzzle piece despite being, on the surface of things, a totally bizarre choice. Like so much of what The Seedy Seeds do (see: banjo breakdowns), it is somewhat counterintuitive, yet it’s pulled off with enormous enthusiasm and energy, as if it never occurred to the band that most synth-pop eschews appalachian instruments for a reason. And the charm of the band, which is winning and substantial, derives directly from that surefooted fearlessness.
It would be a fallacy to claim at this point a really substantial disconnect between bands from Cincinnati and bands from Brooklyn. All of us who are online are part of the same community and we mostly hear the same music from some combination of the same sources. Still, there is something so unselfconsciously nerdy and fun about The Seedy Seeds that feels like it probably never would have coalesced in the style-obsessed northeast. They like hooks and choruses and sus chords and accordions and banjos and cuteness (not for nothing is their label called Eurodorable) and drum machines and why on earth would they not put all of those things together? Listening to this single, I think we can safely say that there’s no reason at all why not.
And finally, for those of you who, like me, might read about this particular combination of instruments and attitudes and react with jokes about Hey can I get more iPod in my monitor and what might politely be called skepticism, let me hit you with a quote from Sean Cannon of Buzzgrinder, on the Seeds live show: I assumed that a band using an iPod, accordion, kazoo, guitar and banjo had to be kitschy and, well, not too great. I was humbled. They tore it up.
Catch the Seeds on the next leg of their Verb Noun tour: March 4th, North Star Bar, Philadelphia, PA March 5th, Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY March 7th, Great Scott, Boston, MA March 8th, Pianos, New York, NY
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem131/01 Verb Noun.mp3
Telephone the Constrictor
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem131/02 Telephone the Constrictor.mp3