Vondelpark are a London based trio who’ve gained quite a reputation over the past few years making a kind of warped RnB inflected electronica. The earliest coverage of Vondelpark had them pitched as a solo project of multi-instrumentalist singer and producer Lewis Rainsbury.
Both 2010’s Sauna EP and 2011’s NYC Stuff And NYC Bags, released on esteemed Belgian electronic label R&S, were introspective pieces of bedroom crafted electronica that sounded very much like the work of one inspired mind. In fact, Vondelpark have always been a collaborative project and their debut album Seabed sees the Peckham-based band flesh out those primitive ideas on a collection of organic and inventive sedated soul.
Vondelpark’s music exists in its own dream space. Much of Seabed resembles the experience of sleep, the sensation of drifting in and out of consciousness. It’s a feeling that gives Seabed a strange and alluring quality. Over the course of repeated listens, the minutia of sonic motif’s and subtle flourishes emerge on an album that sounds wonderfully defined. Vondelpark have, on this evidence, emerged fully formed with a distinct grasp of what they want their music to do and how they want to do it.
Opening track Quest sets the tone. Its gorgeous shimmering synths align with an almost submerged aquatic hazy funk to create a disconcertingly languorous vibe. Rainsbury’s voice sounds as if he’s lost in an hypnotic state; his barely perceptible somnambulant vocals are the perfect accompaniment for these soft focus jams.
Almost every song here slowly drifts in on a pitter-patter of beats or lush enveloping grooves. This allows you to gently lose yourself in the music. This is Vondelpark’s raison detre. The music here is very much mood music. Vondelpark exist to create a state of mind, a feeling of carnal rapture. The gorgeous Always Forever sees them heightening this feeling culminating in the sensual ecstasy of Rainsbury’s vocal hook of “You’re having the time of your life”.
Perhaps the best expression of how Vondelpark have emerged as a proficient and fully formed band is the reworked version of California Analog Dream, a song that first appeared in EP form in 2010. Here, it features warm acoustic guitar and harmonica. It’s a genuinely lovely piece of evocative songwriting that captures the desire in Rainsbury’s voice as he imagines a fantasy utopia: “I’m walking to San Diego.”
Seabed is not quite as successful when the band ventures into darker pastures. The dolorous Dracula, shrouded in gloomy haze, is a bit too introspective and dreary while the title track is uninspiring compared to the joys of what has come before. These are minor quibbles though.
It’s hard to completely work out where Vondelpark are coming from on this album. It shares dynamics with many disparate sounds but is centred more around a vibe than a distinct musical template. Their grounding in experimental ambient electronica coupled with some proficient organic instrumentation is a beguiling mix. It is striking that the album eschews any overt emotion. Much of the music is moving, but in an impersonal way. The state of mind is more important than the baring of the soul. Closer provides an example of Vondelpark’s opaque approach. The song is an ambient piece that is almost floating beatifically in the ether. Rainsford sings, “I’m never getting off this rollercoaster” and it’s unclear what exactly he’s referring to; instead you are left to indulge in this exemplary weirded out soul music.
Seabed is an album from a group who are concerned with texture and atmosphere. For their opening full-length statement, they have created an album that forms its own bewitching character. While debuts can often be bold and brash, Vondelpark’s alternative, understated approach is to be commended.