Portland, Oregon’s Emancipator has, yet again, provided us with an elegant collection of ambiance and rhythms with his 2015 album, Seven Seas. This is his fourth full-length album and embodies a true progression of the Emancipator project. I’m always a bit worried before listening to a new album; many times it’s proven to be the death of a career by falling short of fans’ expectations. Fortunately for Doug Appling, Seven Seas is everything we’ve come to know and love about Emancipator and more: soothing textures and melodies, nature-inspired soundscapes, and, this time, he brought in a few surprise musicians and singers.
The album starts with “All In Here”. From the haunting pianos and hip-hop drums to the sax-like synth, this is what I consider to be a classic Emancipator tune. It’s the perfect way to intro the album for both lovers of and newcomers to his work. “All In Here” is smooth, chilled out, and has just the right amount of groove.
Following this intro is the title track “Seven Seas”, where Emancipator calls on Madelyn Grant to lay her hypnotic vocals over another tune with quintessential emancipator-esque themes. Madelyn is reflective in her lyrics and gorgeous in her melodies; her voice was made for this music.
“1993” is the next track, maintaining the same vibes he’s been working with since 2006 with Soon It Will Be Cold Enough. However, this time he calls in the ensemble to take this tune Far East with a mix of Asian elements. The flute solo takes you to the highest mountains in China on a low fog morning, then enters a dulcimer-like bass that takes you south to a dance party in India. He leads the ensemble through the second half of the song with a building progression that overflows with energy. The next two songs, “Ocelot” and “Vision Quest”, maintain the Eastern motif with similar instrumentation and structure.
“Land & Sea” featuring Molly Parti can be considered the “dance” track off the album. The music stays relatively consistent but the danceable elements lie primarily in the four-on-the-floor drums. Molly brings a jazzy vocal performance that is downright feel good.
Emancipator takes a Western folk guitar riff and turns it into a psychedelic joy ride in “The Key”. Driving violins, fiddles, and an upbeat chord progression give it the characteristics of the final scene for an Clint Eastwood movie. Next we take it down to di “Oasis” mon! (Note: reggae accents do not translate well via text). This tune is one of the best on the album due to its captivating island vibes expertly performed by the ensemble.
“Honey” is a flawless jazz piece straight out of a New York City 1950s jazz bar. I’d wear a three piece suit and wingtip shoes to see this live. Emancipator ends the journey of the Seven Seas in epic fashion. “Barnacles” is one of the most beautiful songs on this album, starting with a heavy dose of hypnosis before building into a tribal-like rhythm with chants and cries echoing throughout as if we were summoning the gods to bring us eternal life.