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***"R.E. Seraphin’s songs live in shadows and ambiguity. The Bay Area musician builds raucous, large-scale rock songs, then hushes them to ghostliness around intimate, murmuring vocals that tickle the inside of your ear. Here are anthemic choruses, amp-jumping rock licks and buzzing propulsion that echo through dream corridors, just out of reach.
Fool’s Mate is Seraphin’s second-full length under his own name, following the debut Tiny Shapes from 2020 and a pair of EPs, A Room Forever and Swingshift. Denser, darker and more rock-oriented than his previous material, it was recorded with Jason Quever of the Papercuts at his home studio in Crockett, California.
Seraphin had been playing with a full band as the lockdown eased, and this album reflects the live chemistry that he’s developed with his crew: guitarist Joel Cusumano (Sob Stories, Body Double), drummer Daniel Pearce (Al Harper, Reds, Pinks, & Purples), bass player Josh Miller (Chime School, Extra Classic), and keyboardist Luke Robbins. Seraphin, Pearce and Miller ]== recorded the basic tracks live, then added Robbins’ keyboards in overdubs. In addition, Seraphin’s frequent collaborator Owen Adair Kelley of Sleepy Sun contributed acoustic and slide guitars, while his wife Hannah Moriah sang background harmonies.
It is very much a rock album, with big Spector-esque arrangements and squalling guitar solos. And yet, it also digs into the shifting currents of the subconscious, incorporating snatches of dreams, half-remembered phrases from books and warped memories and imaginings into its textures. 'The lyrics are meant to evoke a sense of corporeality—there are references to skin, sweat, teeth, and breath throughout the album, which I intended to unsettle the listener,' says Seraphin. 'On the surface, they are love songs but there's a suggestion of something more ominous.'
So, while 'Bound' chimes with power chords and bristles with clattering drum beats in classic romantic pop style, it also shies away from connection. 'No matter what you do to me/I will not be bound,' insinuates Seraphin, throwing a chill on sunny power pop forms. 'Expendable Man,' likewise, lets fuzzy garage punk mayhem fly, but banks it down to an uneasy mutter.
Seraphin writes quickly and intuitively, trying not to over-manage the flow of melody and lyrical imagery that comes to him naturally. The songs evolve as he works on them with his band, with the musicians often pushing them into unique and off-kilter directions. He likes to include at least one cover on every recording, this time, the Sinead O’Connor song, 'Jump in the River,' which he gives an eerily propulsive, ominous spin.
A veteran of rock and punk bands, Seraphin now finds himself drawn to sophisticated, storytelling lyricists like Giant Sand, Miracle Legion, Green on Red, Paul Westerberg, and Lloyd Cole. 'I don’t really do traditional narratives in my own music, but I do enjoy the storytelling aspects of Americana music,' he said. 'After playing in scrappy garage rock bands for over a decade, I’m drawn to more refined musicianship.'
Fool’s Mate weaves all these disparate threads together—the kick of punk energy, the surreal intimacy of dreams and the nervy communal punch of live performance—into the best of R.E. Seraphin’s records so far. Full of hooks, but shrouded in mystery, it commands attention with a whisper."—Jennifer Kelly (Aquarium Drunkard, Dusted)