Music critics are notorious for pegging bands, whether the bands want to be pegged or not. Emo, chillwave, and the newly-minted genre “rape gaze”—these are all tags that have risen from the pens (or rather, keyboards) of music writers. It’s the way nearly every genre is born.
Whether I’m a legitimate “music critic” is extremely debatable, and I certainly don’t have any intention of pegging Saroos newest LP, See Me Not. The interesting thing here is how genreless See Me Not really is—it’s simultaneously all over the place and nothing, all at once. Not “nothing” in a negative sense, of course—just so all-across-the-grid that it almost cancels itself out, anytime it approaches any discernable flavor. It approaches ambient, indie, post-rock, electronic, hip-hop, trip-hop, noise, breakbeat, jazz, skronk, but the sounds and beats See Me Not shift gears and veer away from each of those genres before they can get too close.
The album’s title track is a good example of this: it dives in and out of washes of guitar reverb, Blockheadian vocal track samples, knocking beats, and a multitude of other inexplicable noises work together to create one of the year’s most heartbreakingly beautiful tracks. It’s impossible to pigeon-hole, and that’s part of its appeal.
Saroos’ sound is, no doubt, credited to the fact that this German group is comprised of such a diverse lineup of talented individuals from different sonic backgrounds, from bands such as Iso68 (jazz and experimental), Lali Puna (experimental electropop), and The Notwist (indie). You can’t just single out one band’s influence on this record—it’s all there, and more. The melding of organic instrumentation (real drums, real guitar work) combined with less tangible production (i.e., loops and samples) works to stunning effect. This approach is nothing new in music, of course, but Saroos’ execution is refreshing, however mysterious it might be.
See Me Not continues in much of the same vein as the aforementioned track, especially with regards to the overwhelming sense of melancholy that hovers over most of the album. “Yukoma” settles on a scattering drum-beat (real drums) and minor-key synths. An indecipherable vocal chant kicks in during the track’s last half, bringing the emotional potency to a maximum. “Tyden Divu” recalls the slow, pensive work of fellow German electronic producer Apparat. The somber mood seems to increase as the album progresses, almost playing out like a film with an inevitably depressing end. As each track passes and time lapses, it becomes increasingly more difficult to keep the eyes from getting a little misty.
It’s not all tears and cold, lonely days, though. The album’s first two tracks, “Lobster Claw” and “Daylight Chant” are certainly moody and tense, but the melancholy isn’t as oppressive. They serve as accurate setups for See Me Not, which proves to be a curious amalgam of multiple moods, genres, and textures. When it comes to crafting a fine, “down-tempo” album (in the literal sense, not the genre), Saroos picks up the slack where some bands in 2010 (like Blonde Redhead) tried and failed. For music that’s just as indefinable as it is slow, gloomy, and beat-oriented, See Me Not is truly one of the year’s finest offerings.