Sea Oleena: Shallow

Charlotte Loseth comes across as the type of songwriter who perfects something, then runs like hell away from it. Take “Milk”, from her lovely 2011 record as Sea Oleena, Sleeplessness: the song cuts sharp trip-hop edges with open-air instrumentation and a whisper of tape hiss, while bass notes played on piano loom against Loseth’s spiraling vocal layers. It could be a long-lost cousin to Massive Attack‘s “Teardrop”, hookless but sticky, full of breath and dust instead of computerized shine. Shallow, Loseth’s third release as Sea Oleena and her first full-length, sheds everything that ticked about “Milk”—the beats, the hard lines, the resolutions—instead skirting easy answers and quick release, grasping at something more patient, sad, and subtle. 

Shallow diffuses the same pale light that’s characterized Sea Oleena so far, as Loseth makes space to apply her textural instincts toward more ambitious tensions. The album crests on her longest track to date, “Vinton, LA”, which shivers through its 11 minutes on nothing but piano, strings, voice, and the effects that multiply them. Loseth spaces out her syllables, letting the lyrics swell and hang loose as another ambient texture until the listener’s able to stitch them together. Acclimate to her syntax, and the song reveals a furtive unease in its calm. “I was alone and so overwhelmed,” she sings, the last word’s three syllables ballooning into a canopy. She sings about swimming in the ocean, swallowing its salt, losing the self but keeping its shadow, all while cellos low beneath her words.

“If only your eyes couldn’t hold all the darkness you hide,” Loseth sings just before “Vinton”‘s climax. As a whole, Shallow runs dense with “ifs”: its opening track, “If I’m”, tips its lyrics with its title as the strongest beat on the album supplies a smooth bridge between it and Sleeplessness. “If I’m the forest, you’re the field at my feet,” she sings. “If I’m the corner that the dark backs into/ You’re the darkness that this cold hand clings to.” Slowly, in the patterns she repeats through her lyrics, Loseth builds an ambient narrative that’s shy enough to drift right past on cursory listens. She exploits the dynamics inherent in the imagery of darkness versus light, mountains versus seas, forests versus fields. There is pain locked deep inside this album—which, ironically, comes across as a balm from pain, as though the only way to sing out the darknesses was to soothe them at the same time. 

On the cover of Shallow, someone beckons away from the camera with a bloodied finger, a red bracelet on her wrist, or maybe a thin wound where the blood came from. It’s an unsettling image, and Shallow possesses a similar unease. On the record’s closing track, “Paths”, Loseth repeats the line, “yours is a path I’d like to crawl.” It’s a love song, and a song about submission, need, brokenness, and pain. Sea Oleena dissolves hurt and comfort into the same mist, and never once flinches at how close they swirl to each other. 

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork