The story at the heart of Evropi is one that, in light of the current refugee situation, has only become more topical over the last couple of weeks. It is also a tale that resonates throughout the history of human existence.
Over the course of the album, husband and wife duo Daniel Benjamin and Eleni Zafiriadou, aka Sea + Air, relate the account of a family uprooted from their homeland, who travel across Europe looking to find happiness and a better life. It stretches across generations, borders and time, and although the characters in these songs appear to relate to the family of Zafiriadou (the character of the granddaughter is named Eleni) the wider themes addressed across these songs could apply to many families across the world and to anyone – musicians, for example – that leads a nomadic existence.
What is perhaps surprising about an album that touches on such emotive subjects is that it rarely gives into dour introspection. For the most part these songs are elegant, wondrous and quite beautiful, even when steeped in melancholy. Key to the success of the album is Benjamin and Zafiriadou’s adventurous natures: they’re musically inventive, their lyrics are poignant and Zafiriadou’s vocals, in particular, have the ability to tug fiercely at the heartstrings. The eclecticism on display allows the album to operate as a purely musical entity, with the story becoming incidental to the melodies should you choose to listen to it that way.
We All Have To Leave Someday is a perfect example; beginning with a haunting vocal motif, and gentle orchestration, it slowly grows in stature, introducing drums and multiple layers which wrap around the main hook of the song’s title. A stabbing, almost militaristic midsection gives the song some bite and vigour before Zafiriadou’s elegant vocals take over for the conclusion. It’s a perfectly orchestrated opening to the album, and one that stands on its own. Dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that this – as with most of the album – is a song about escaping poverty and danger and the effect it can have on a family.
Should I Care is just as wonderful in its depiction of being out of place in a strange town. The feelings of loss in pursuit of a better life are never more succinctly expressed here, but that it is done with the use of such wonderful harmonies and orchestration suggests that this displacement is being endured out of love. There are moments where the telling of the story becomes a little intrusive, most notably on the new-wave inspired Mercy Looks Good On You, which crowbars lyrics into a spiky structure. It’s awkward and clunky, and although it gives the album a needed change of pace, it feels a little forced.
The missteps are few and far between though, and when they get it right, such as on Lady Evropi, it’s quite stunning. The duo describe themselves as Ghost Pop, which at first seems like a ridiculous term, but when they’re setting familial history against a hazily ethereal accompaniment, sparked into life via the injection of eastern European pop, it’s a description that fits perfectly.
The album closes with what might just be its two finest moments. We Understand You is a glorious olive branch of a song: empathetic and welcoming. Part Eurovision, part Louis Armstrong and with a slight dollop of The Beach Boys, it would have been a wonderful ending, but Sea + Air push for a final flourish. You Are might not have the chutzpah of We Understand You, but its simplicity and message of love hit home wonderfully. The idea that peace, love and understanding is all the world needs might sound like a load of hippy bollocks, but it’s a far better way than ignorance, prejudice and hatred.