What does Hydrogen Sea sound like?
Indie pop sitting somewhere between Little Dragon, Goldfrapp and Oh Land.
The review of Hydrogen Sea – Creature Comforts
Belgian duo Hydrogen Sea return with their third album ‘Creature Comforts’, aiming to delve into what offers us physical or mental comfort. Sitting firmly in the indie pop space, this lush and syrupy album merges warm electronics and rhythms with dreamy vocals and a coating of catchy ideas.
The opening track ‘Ammonite’ appears with hazy piano, ethereal synths and distant muffled drums. I liken it to fog clearing on a valley as you are introduced to all the elements that make up a quintessential Hydrogen Sea song. A groove to get behind, floaty vocals that balance a melody and emotion and a collage of keyboards that pull you in. It is a gentle introduction that paves the way for the excellent ‘Candy’ – a sun-kissed upbeat track that reminds of Goldfapp’s more rustic side mixed with Little Dragon or Sylvan Esso’s synth-pop sensibilities. The playful vocal clippings and jaunty keyboards make the track an instant radio hit in waiting and perfect for summer vibes. Pushing more towards the bass-driven cabaret-tinged electro-pop is ‘Wine’. Big drums and a nod towards the circus underscore the bluesy piano riff that leads the main melody. After the sugar rush of ‘Candy’, ‘Wine’ represents the darker sides of pleasure and carries a darker tone as a result. It is a powerhouse opening trio that shows the gambit of what Hydrogen Sea has to offer.
After three distinctively different but indie pop-focused tracks, ‘Dragon’ moves us into a desolate noir synthpop world. The song is led by Birson’s enchanting voice, floating around some dreamy noise. As the song takes shape, the idea is that breathing in and out your emotions can invoke pleasure and so the track moves between an off-kilter anxious bridge back to being calm and dreamy again. ‘Cherry Milk’ is the most direct song on the album. Playing out like an 80s synth rock track, warm synths and rubbery guitars lead the way here. There is a definite Cardigans similarity here with a focus on tight crunchy drums, a strong bassline and everything else drapes off that core. ‘Wolves’ is a beautiful falling star indie pop gem. Glistening keyboards twinkle over acoustic guitars and striding beats like a midnight dream. The production works so well here, giving the track an ephemeral otherworldly quality by thinning out the bass without toning it down.
With each song, a new original of comfort or pleasure arrives. Towards the closing third of the album, we move further away from superficial pleasures to more worldly ones. ‘Mycelium’ is all about interconnectedness. The rhythmic approach the track takes personifies the idea because the piano, drums, bass, synth and even the vocals start to create punchy patterns that grow in size and even volume by the end. It is such a groove-driven track, in a way that Ultraista fans would appreciate. A real hidden gem non-single track.
‘Watermelon’ is a sumptuous and lavish synth and vocal piece that describes the world around us through food descriptors. The world hasn’t sounded quite as delicious as the lyrics here describe it. Whilst it is the only track without drums, it hurtles along at pace. Key to this is the vibrating and warbling single synth. It made me think the synth was a thread of pleasure taking in every sensory input. ‘Appalachia’ has Hydrogen Sea taking on a slow-burning ballad about trying to climb the mountains of life. The slow-motion sway of the track sounds like an anthem for those wanting to pull themselves out of darkness. Even in the darker themes, PJ and Birsen can sound warm and inviting – like an arm around your shoulder. The album then closes with the beautiful ‘Earth’, leaving the listener with hope as the country-tinged ambient piece drifts across you like honey. No matter what’s going on in the world and the news, it’s clear this duo want to lift you up by singing for peace and happiness in the face of disaster.
‘Creature Comforts’ is one of those albums where you will tune into different tracks depending on your mood and vice that day. As a foodie, the lyrics of some songs get me upbeat and optimistic about life. Someone in Hydrogen Sea clearly creates with their stomach and I’m not complaining! Elsewhere, the album is like an audio blanket of comfort and homely glow depending on what is on your mind that day. This is a lush and layered indie-pop gem of an album and one of my favourite indie-pop albums released in 2023. Dig in.
Recommended track: Wolves
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