Last updated on January 5, 2022
Some bands don’t acquire fanbases as much as they create converts. Bands like The Tallest Man on Earth, The Mountain Goats, or Animal Collective all have some feature (nasal voice, nasal voice, oddball tendencies) that make them unpalatable to the general population. But for those who do get it, the passion is intense: not only is there a new, distinct musical sound to be loved, the built-in community of people who get what most people don’t is a boon. I’m ready to meet the rest of my people in the Dolfish camp, because Max Sollisch’s I’d Rather Disappear Than Fade Away is definitely not for everyone.
However, Dolfish is for me, because Sollisch combines the fingerpicking mastery of The Tallest Man on Earth, the emotive yawp and highly literate lyrics of The Mountain Goats, and atypical song structures to create an absolutely gripping sound. I never can figure out if calling a person a songwriter’s songwriter is a compliment or not, but those who have written songs will be able to appreciate the complexity, quality and sheer risk that Sollisch takes with these songs. Opener “Grown Ups” rambles pointedly through five minutes of odd chords, sporadic fingerpicking, and deliberately affected vocals; it’s a beautiful, unusual, intriguing song that only Dolfish could have come up with. While his strumming pattern gets far more standard and his vocals are tamed a bit in follow-up “The One Who Burns the Coffee,” he creates a deeply detailed, esoteric narrative in two minutes, reminiscent of The Mountain Goats’ best work.
None of the twelve songs here are longer than 3:30, and none of them need to be: they shine like gems without having to beat repetition into your head. Occasionally drums and electric guitar appear (“Lucky Caller,” “Don’t Kick Me When I’m Down”), but mostly it’s an acoustic affair. Highlight “There Must Be Something Wrong With These Shoes” calls up old-school Bob Dylan, while “All That Keeps Us on the Ground” is pure Tallest Man on Earth-style fingerpicking bliss. I could keep going on about I’d Rather Disappear than Fade Away, but you should just check it out. It’s a treasure trove of lyrics, songwriting and unique vocal performances. It’s not for everyone, but for those who get it, this will be an incredible find.
Vondelpark’s Seabed draws liberally from R&B, downtempo indie-pop and chillwave to create “bedroom music” (whatever that means to you). What that means to me today is that I’m not getting out of bed after an incredibly long week, and Seabed is the perfect soundtrack to that laziness. From beginning to end, the trio of Londoners keep the sonic palette intentionally tight: dreamy keys, swirling synths, murky bass, gentle beats, and ghostly yet groovy vocals dominate the proceedings. This creates an extremely cohesive album that is more suited to whole listening than individual singles. Can you tell “Come On” apart from its predecessor “Dracula” or its follow-up “Always Forever”? Not really, not unless you’re trying. But that doesn’t diminish the power of Seabed; it enhances it. Few albums are written as experiences these days, but Seabed certainly feels like one.
One of the few tracks that doesn’t adhere to the strict instrumental palette is single “California Analog Dream,” which is literally an analog version of Vondelpark’s sound: real drums replace the beats, harmonica replaces synth, the keys are replaced by guitar, and the electric guitar that sometimes swoops in on the proceedings swoops on in. An arpeggiator and rhodes keyboard do come in later, but it’s still a striking change (and a great choice for a single, as it sticks out most). Seabed is a beautiful album that wrings majesty out of its hushed sonic qualities; it’s a remarkable achievement.