The musical career of singer and composer Seaming To has been long and far travelled. Born in London to a family of concert pianists To has spent her entire life immersed in music, beginning with studies at the Royal College of Music in London. She then went on to further her education with operatic studies at the Royal Northern College in Manchester. To has put all this theoretical knowledge to good use throughout her career by specialising in audio/visual projects and composing soundtracks, and has notably contributed to the work of idiosyncratic jazz collective Homelife.
Yet despite her numerous musical and cultural achievements To has never released any music under her own name. That is until now, and the release of her bewitching self-titled debut.
Seaming is entirely written and performed by To. As befitting someone with her musical education, she is a multi-instrumentalist. However, the one instrument that stands out far beyond all others is To’s incredible voice. It is a dextrous wonder that captivates throughout the record, endlessly morphing and reshaping into different forms and sounds. From a soaring, operatic croon on Sodaslow (sipped), to the theatrical flourishes of Mermaid, to the powerful emoting of Vertigo Billy, it is a voice that is always pushed directly to the forefront of the music.
The musical backdrops that To creates for her voice are mostly subtle and restrained. Tracks like I’m Going To See bubble with swirling synths and skittering understated beats. There is a fluctuation throughout the album between traditional classical and jazz forms and more contemporary electronic sounds. The jumpy electronica of Bee, for example, has more akin with something on Warp records than classical music while Vertigo Billy marries the grandiosity of opera with the industrial crunch of Zola Jesus. It is a striking combination.
Throughout Seaming, you obtain an understanding of To’s musical background and influences, which are firmly rooted in classical and operatic music but also have strong kinship with areas of avant-garde performance art and electronica. To has few similar contemporaries. The restless experimentalism of Joanna Newsom is perhaps the closest comparison.
Much of Seaming is imbued with a sense of balletic grace. You can easily imagine songs like the ornate instrumental piano piece Deer soundtracking a ballet performance on a grand stage. Yet this performance quality is perhaps also the album’s biggest drawback. At times, you feel as if you are listening to the soundtrack of an opera or theatrical performance, and it is hard to form a real emotional attachment to these songs. The largely oblique lyrics do not help in this regard. These are no doubt hugely impressive musical pieces but the album is lacking in strong pop melodies.
It is churlish to complain so, mind, for To is anything but a pop star. Seaming is a record of rich textures and sounds that calls for complete immersion; it’s hard going at times but the rewards are ultimately plentiful. Final track Humid best sums up the album’s charms. What starts as a gentle music box melody accompanying To’s cooing vocal grows into an enormous swelling crescendo as you float off into a dream-like state carried on the waves of one of music’s most strikingly beautiful voices.