Voices in Music: Seo Is Bolstering Her Place in the Melancholic Ranks

Music as the purest art form has served as a compelling medium of expression from time immemorial. However, its true beauty and power lie in its ability to exist as a cross-breed of various forms without any labels. Where its counterparts, like film and the visual arts, may be restrained by the confinement of the boxes they have been placed into; with music, one is able to blur the defining lines separating one genre from the other.

Digital advancements and sonic discoveries have played a hand in birthing experimental music; pushing existing boundaries and genre definitions. These days, to be experimental doesn’t necessarily involve producing creatively complex music; it simply means to begin to speak a language not everyone speaks yet. Afrobeats has quickly become the dominant worldwide representation of Nigerian music, transcending international borders to dominate foreign airwaves. However, Afrobeats is just one chapter in the story of current Nigerian music. A new generation of innovative artists are creating a style of music that isn’t easy to define; telling their distinctly Nigerian stories in voices peculiar to them.

Enter Seo, an Ireland-based Nigerian producer, and singer-songwriter, who is quickly on her way to cementing her place in the melancholic ranks. Inspired by a Jonas Brothers concert she attended, Seo began creating music by writing songs at age 11, attempting to emulate their sound. It wasn’t long before she fully came into her own person and ditched the pop stratosphere for a soundscape more authentic to her. Combining this new urge to create music with 7 years of violin and guitar lessons, she began exploring production elements, experimenting with different tones to properly convey the vibe she wants.

Thriving predominantly in dark and desolating themes, Seo creates music that’s ‘more abstract than direct’, often lacking in an obvious subject matter and while her sound can be described as genre-fluid, it’s hard to ignore the obvious elements of ambient music, trip-hop, melancholic soul and even avant-garde music fused into her tones. As a producer, Seo dwells more in minimalistic production; implementing apocalyptic distortions over stripped back heavily syncopated chords and synth lines. It’s unorthodox and lacking in a defined structure, but there’s beauty in the chaos; an underlying yet hard to ignore, holistic patience in each record.

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Releasing music since 2017, the 23-year-old possesses a surprisingly prolific catalog with a myriad of EPs and singles; each conveying a different soundscape. ‘Capture’, lead single off her 2017 introductory EP, Avena Sativa, is a deeply pensive, somber serenade. Over arpeggiated piano chords, ethereal synths and a sudden discordant drum loop, Seo explores themes of growth and consciousness of one’s current situation, ‘What do you recall/About how high we leap before we fall/Think before you answer/Because there’s too much to capture’. The intimacy of the production is heavily captivating and instantly casts the listener to a place of self-reflection.

Her ability to move from cinematic to breezy on a record is evidently due to her self-production, perfectly encapsulating her emotions as she would like them to be conveyed. However, sometimes the production doesn’t necessarily match the message related. ‘Cherry’ finds the reclusive artist delving into desolate themes hidden in the playful textures of her voice, over an unexpected galactic production, as she echoes, ‘Blossom with me/I’ll help you to see/That the worst is yet to come so let’s be easy’. On ‘Pain’, she wishes for death over a contrasting mid-tempo beat, ‘Kill me in my sleep/See if I care/They say my words are too dark/I say not dark enough’.

While Seo’s lingering relationship with the dark and despondent might seem distasteful to some, it’s hard to deny the beauty in the darkness. In the melancholic ranks where heartbreak is a saturated commodity, Seo’s raw and unfiltered dance with her demons is oddly enough, a breath of fresh air. ‘I Just Hate Breathing’, a dissonantly sorrowful ballad, depicts the artist in a state of complete dejection, ‘I don’t hate breathing you in/I just hate breathing/I don’t hate being alive/I just hate being’. Elsewhere on ‘Try’, she vows to battle her inner demons and make it out alive. Over rising synths and forlorn piano chords, she breathily purrs, ‘Turning back into who I was/I don’t know how but I will try’.

Among her admittedly dense discography, Seo is found performing solo; writing, producing and performing every single track. However, this does not mean she’s closed to collaborative efforts with other artists. Her outstanding work as the uncredited female vocalist on a number of songs by the alternative band, Forevatired is a testament to this. While working with the band, although Seo’s soft-layered desolation meets with their more structured production, the resulting emotion conveyed is no different from her self-produced work. Standout tracks like ‘Cold’, ‘Kiwi’, ‘No Land In Any Direction’ and ‘Lost’ are abstractly constructed, reverb-heavy soliloquies comprising ambiguous lyrics sultrily delivered over serene piano strokes, gloomy guitar strums and an overall psychedelic soundscape. And delving into the Nigerian Lo-fi community, her soothing vocals on ‘Liberty Road’ off ICTOOICY’s chart-topping EP, ‘Sorry I Don’t Like Phone Calls’ certainly gave the project the diversity it needed.

Gloom and despair seem to be all too familiar tropes for Seo, but there’s a part of her that wishes for a break from the bleakness – no matter how little. Hence the birth of Moonbather, stylized as ‘m00nbather’, a lighter and more optimistic version of the singer, dwelling more in uplifting themes. Speaking on the disparity between both personas, Seo tells me, ‘Seo’s music is more authentic to who I am. Moonbather is a different, more cheerful, smaller part of Seo. A part I’m trying to make bigger’. Fusing electronic pop and dream pop elements, Moonbather exudes hope in a period of darkness. ‘Take It Easy On Yourself’, a track off her recent Imperfection EP, finds the artist crooning encouraging lyrics over an 80s pop aesthetic tinged beat. ‘The world is hard enough/Take it easy on yourself yeah’, she reassuringly echoes.

It’s certainly invigorating to see Nigerian artists taking more experimental risks in the production of their music, and even more exciting to witness the audience become more receptive to these unorthodox methods. Taking an even casual glance at Seo’s artistry so far, it’s evident she’s an artist far beyond her years. A true diamond in the rough, her ability to explore complex themes and sounds to conceive simple music that is equally as mysterious as it is moving is certainly a commendable feat. This is an artist fully aware of her being, opting for a stream of consciousness style as opposed to more playlist ready fare; a true love child of Grouper and FKA Twigs. Her sound is visceral and oceanic, created with intimacy and intent, with effortless delivery of lived-in vocals elucidating the inner workings of an artist comfortable in her authenticity. With such artillery in her sonic war chest, this dark flower can only bloom even further and we’ll be here watching.

Makua Adimora

Makua has forgotten more Young Thug lyrics than you'd probably ever know. Tweet your fav horror movies at her @coldasmax_

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