As the word ‘Seasick’ comes before the word ‘Circus’ in the title to this CatsMelvin album, it’s made quite obvious how this is not the kind of circus that makes small children smile and cheer. No, this name suggests more of the ‘afraid of scary clowns’ kind of atmosphere, instead. In order to create this ominous vibe, CatsMelvin has packed 18 songs into a 44-minute effort. It amounts to 18 short stabs of many times auditory rants.
Sonically, this release contains a wide variety of styles. It’s sung with plenty of harsh force. Oftentimes, these lead vocals are doubled in the mix, including female backing vocals often. The release’s title track creates a sort of woozy, anti-funhouse vibe, as though the listener is hopelessly trapped in a locked down dystopia.
There are moments, however, when CatsMelvin gives us much more straightforward sounds, as with the rocking “Casualties,” which is built upon a rollicking electric guitar rhythm. It adds to the overall nightmarish vibe of the album. With its noisy midsection, which has what is – what sounds like – a spooky theremin on it, it strongly suggests that all is not well in the world. Then with “Front Row Seat,” CatsMelvin presents an entirely different approach. Once again utilizing backing female vocals, he builds this quiet, reflective track around a gentle acoustic guitar backing. It comes off as sort of morning after feeling, when one is left to think over all the wild craziness in life from the night before.
In between the record’s standard-length tracks, CatsMelvin inserts short ambient pieces, which he’s numbered as “Steel Interludes.” Perhaps the best track, or at least the most interesting one, is titled “In The Woods.” It begins with a Mexican-sounding trumpet, which leaves it sounding distinctly south of the border. The song also evolves into a bit of a reggae groove. It is inventive and ends with an electronic piano outro. Continuing the work’s inventiveness is “Rub” that rolls like a ‘60s rock/soul workout. It includes organ, soulful backing vocals for a high energy blast of sound.
For “Pharmaceuticals,” CatsMelvin speaks to issues concerning prescription drugs. Over a plodding rhythm, which may remind you of many Tom Waits’ ‘80s recordings, CatsMelvin sings it like a guy that has been a little overserved his meds. His voice has a decidedly world-weary tone as he describes a dark future that has an over-medicated populace. “Down and Out,” in contrast, is propelled by a driving electric guitar riff. Backed again by soulful female singing, he provides a messy rock piece where his voice this time sounds like Steve Wynn of The Dream Syndicate. “Ripple Effect” picks up where “Down and Out” leaves off, with a punkish – albeit, with organ mixed in again – approach.
Seasick Circus may leave you feeling a little unwell. But that seems to be the point. While not always being specific, CatsMelvin has put his artistic pen to describing a world in deep trouble. It’s almost as though he’s on a frightening ride, and he just wants to get off. He’s not going to go quietly, though. He is compelled to describe what he sees, with unbridled detail. It’s a strong effort and suggests nobody needs to send in the clowns – they’re already here.