Album Review: Sei Still – ‘El Refugio’.

So let’s start ’22 with a cool blast from Mexico, where new wave and post punk and frosty electronics hit against blurred grooves of agro. t’s atmospheric, claustrophobic, rhythm driven, angst ridden, with rough shots of tough grind and heat. There’s the krautrock of Neu!, the smooth drive of Faust, and a map towards A Place To Bury Strangers. If that doesn’t give some inclination, then it’s time to dig deeper and darker.

The finger prints of 1980 obvious. They’re as clear as lipstick on white shirts. The centrepiece of the album is as in debt as can be to Martin Hannett’s persuasive percussion. ‘Soldados Caidos’ hooks its tight wire-thin bass to reverb-kissed drums, pads swell and swirl in around them. Vocals hang by and move with a sully and slink that avoids all the limelight and focus. It’s affectionate jump to the past, with its touchstones and lineage all clear.

But this track aint the mood of the album. Elsewhere it has pressure, it bristles. ‘Extrarradio’ elicits the right kind of clash between homage and revamped old sounds. It heads deep into grooves all broke up by bent chords that clatter and cling to the vibe. ‘Exilio’ shifts between Ist Ist depression and an instinct to squeeze light out of dark. Once again it’s the drums that propel, they’re not the backbone that pushes the pulse of the song, but the lead theme that’s shoved to the front. Add to this electronics that pepper the lowlight, and we get something close to hypnotic.

We move on this way mostly, hooked this way and that on a bristle of charm while occasional comforts weave inwards. By the time there’s a Theremin gliding its spin as ‘Las Puertas De La Noche’s minor character, it feels like a new friend in the gloom. It’s these subtle variations, the twitches in texture, that keep an ear keen if not hooked.  

Maybe it was mean to kick off with that centrepiece, there’s only one other time we head back there. But with a mood that’s sustained, that’s hard-set and lean, when it’s broken it calls for attention. These are songs for the lovers of particular sounds, until the closing track takes it all lighter.

Suddenly there’s a glimpse of the natural. We move from Vukovar to Cure to Beach House in four minutes of honey-sweet shoegaze. Reward might be too big a sentiment, but a sense of what else and something close to wonder, give us something to lift and get lost in.