Since going M.I.A. in 2016, it would be easy to write off Seahaven as finished – a band only to be remembered for a distinct time and place. Alongside names such as Citizen, Turnover, Title Fight, and swathes of others, Seahaven were part of the emo/pop-punk revival of the 2010s, driven by Tumblr blog posts and scenic artwork.
Spurred on by shows supporting reunited pop-punkers Man Overboard, Seahaven have woken up from their four-year slumber with third album ‘Halo of Hurt’. On the surface, it sees the Californian quartet’s return to the emotive alt-rock they departed from on 2014’s sophomore effort, ‘Reverie Lagoon: Music For Escapism Only’. Where the latter swam in sun-soaked, shimmering guitars and reserved pacing, their return is pensive and ripened with renewed energy.
Admittedly, six minute opener ‘Void’ doesn’t quite fit that urgency. The restrained pacing with delicate piano keys and brooding instrumentation segues into a stirring guitar solo and riveting drum fill, while Kyle Soto’s captivating voice merely adds to the gloomy tone as he sings about the inevitable end: “only time will tell the rest”.
For the most part, Soto and company show a darker and, dare we say it, more mature side to their songwriting. ‘Moon’ carries itself with an entrancing guitar line alongside a grungy undertone and tempo. Later on, ‘Harbour’ follows a similar dynamic, coming off as one of the album’s most intense tracks. Soto’s words of “What does this make of you?” are slightly confrontational and studious. Nevertheless, they are delivered with conviction, allowing it to become of the album’s most enthralling moments.
By the time tracks like ‘Dandelion’ and ‘Lose’ arrive, the quartet are in their comfort zone. Riding a wave of slow-burning alt-rock, the former’s gentle guitar is countered by sturdy bass notes and anchored by Eric Findlay’s rumbling drums. ‘Lose’ treads on the thin balladic line, putting Soto’s voice at the forefront as plucky guitars and drifting drums meander. Lines such as “Never really mattered anyway / Spent all my time, hoping everything would work out right / Really was for nothing at all seeing it all now” simply continue the reflective tone found throughout ‘Halo of Hurt’.
Structurally, Seahaven keep you guessing as they often avoid the expected verse-chorus-verse framework. Acute, occasionally spacious moments are countered by explosive breaks, best demonstrated in ‘Void’ and midway highlight ‘I Don’t Belong Here’. Meanwhile, ‘Living Hell’ comfortably embraces the gradual quiet-loud formula, haunting pianos complementing Soto’s voice and the slow, alluring build paying off with intimate guitar work and layered vocals. Likewise, the use of twinkling acoustics on penultimate track ‘Bait’ is reminiscent of ‘Reverie Lagoon’, yet instrumental swells tease an expected eruption.
With its sweet strings, ‘Eraser’ rounds off the album in an ideal fashion. Clouded by its mournful tone, Soto’s elegiac and captivating words (“I’m running out of air to breath / And somehow you’re still echoing”) aligns with the contemplative feel that threads ‘Halo of Hurt’ together. It is a bleak yet poignant finale to a record that requires multiple listens.
What Seahaven lack in providing memorable hooks is made up by their refined songwriting, allowing the listener to become wrapped up in the sombre, reflective tone on offer. Their time away has allowed Seahaven to organically grow as people, and as musicians – and although not a full reinvention, ‘Halo of Hurt’ has revealed a more tense, layered, and compelling Seahaven.