I can’t quite tell if “All the Seas” is a simple song that feels deep or a deep song that feels simple. It is in any case a song that casts indirect aspersions, through both beauty and sturdiness, on many current efforts at so-called “indie folk rock.”
The simple/deep enigma is driven by a few factors. First, the lyrics strike a nice balance between personal reflection and grander philosophizing. Note that that latter kind of pondering, in a pop song, can easily become ponderous (pun intended). “All the Seas” hits the mark from the opening line, which asserts a universal truth from a first-person position:
I’d rather stare into an eye
Than into a sea or into a sky, my my
Simple words, personal declaration, but a rather substantive point being made at the same time. Next, the music itself, as straightforward as it seems, provides subtle richness in the interaction of the turbulent rhythm—established by the intricate finger-picking that opens the song—and the lovely, folk-like melody that is hung on top of it. That the song sways to an underlying one-two beat is partially hidden until the chorus, and is not fully felt until the second time the chorus visits, when it is fleshed out by three extra lines, all sung, unlike most of the verse, directly on the beat. I’m finding the song’s dramatic peak at the third line in the expanded chorus (1:55; “So pay no mind…”), not only for the crisp wording but for the thoughtful melodic turns the line takes as it descends.
And then, whether done consciously or not, the fact that front man Jacob Houlsby swallows the lyric that would be the song’s primary teaching moment is another, rather charming way we not only avoid pretentiousness but also cultivate depth. “All the seas, all the seas, have been”—what: “seen”? “sailed”? I can’t make it out. (Do feel free to let me know what you think he’s saying.) And yet clarity here not only doesn’t seem to matter, it somehow softens me to the song by sending me into my own imagination, accompanied by the churning, oceanic rhythm.
Houlsby is from Newcastle in the UK; Suntrapp is a project poised in a Bon Iver-like way between being a one-man project and a full-out band. “All the Seas” is the first release, and will be found on an upcoming EP called Yannina. Thanks to The Mad Mackeral for the head’s up.