Say Psych: Album Review: Sei Still – El Refugio

The Breakdown

‘El Refugio’ is a complex offering; with splashes of post-punk, goth rock, krautrock and psychedelia seamlessly blended to make something startlingly familiar yet brand new at the same time. If you didn’t love them before, you will after this.

Mexican five-piece Sei Still return with their second album El Refugio, out today on Fuzz Club Records. The new album follows their self-titled debut released in April 2020, which is already on its second vinyl pressing after selling out extremely quick first time around.

The band was born when they decided to take a random trip to some desolate woodlands outside of Mexico City to work on a couple of songs that would end up leading them to start a fully-fledged band. With just a couple of singles behind them, 2017’s ‘Oto’ and 2019’s ‘Tácticas de Guerilla Urbana’, they soon picked up a fast-growing reputation in Mexico – sharing the stage with the likes of Stereolab, Kikagaku Moyo, Institute & Lorelle Meets The Obsolete – before signing to the London-based label Fuzz Club Records for their 2020 self-titled debut album, which quickly solidified a new European fan-base for the band.

El Refugio showcases changes for the band. Not only have they moved from Mexico City to Berlin, but their sound has undergone a process of evolution too. Where the debut LP was an exercise in mesmerising Krautrock channelling the likes of Neu! and Can, El Refugio keeps hold of that motorik pulse but trades the debut’s more expansive and hypnotic tendencies for a collection of dark, wiry post-punk vignettes. The album is a more skeletal effort than its predecessor but packs a greater punch precisely because of that; the songs are shorter and unapologetically to-the-point, brimming with a tension and anguish that makes the album a deeply affecting listen. 

Talking about the album the band said: “The biggest influence on this record was the fact that our personal lives had a radical change and we felt the need to do something different, to dig deeper into the possibilities of what the band was about. We never wanted to make the same record twice.” The move from Mexico to Germany was enough of an upheaval in and of itself, but considering they did so mere weeks before entering lockdown gives one possible explanation as to why the new material feels more emotive and visceral than before. Expressionist rather than psychedelic in intent, they say that ‘El Refugio’ “alludes to childhood, dreams, desire, loneliness, paranoia and hope. A longing for a different reality that breaks the monotony of daily life. It’s more about sensations than something you can describe in words. I think what makes music great is that it has to be experienced so we try to part from a specific mood or emotion, which is something very abstract that people can interpret in their own way.”

Opening with ‘Extrarradio’ the track has a probing bassline that dominates from the off, setting a different tone to the first LP. It’s a bit darker, a bit more sinister but hypnotic and the Berlin effect shines through. ‘Me Persigue’ continues the motorik come post-punk sound with no less intensity than we have come to expect, it will appeal to a UK audience, as you can hear influences of many of the greats in there. ‘Exilio’ is driven by the taut, propulsive rhythm sections of their earlier work, yet with an added darkness from the prominent, ethereal synth which swathes the whole track in mystique. ‘Soldados Caidos’ is deeply entrenched in gothic roots, with rising synth patterns and Lucas Martín’s monotonous sprechgesang vocal (delivered in Spanish throughout) giving the track a foreboding and ghostly allure. Its one you want to listen to over and over to try and unearth from its depths what is going on. ‘Solsticio’ has a disco groove at its heart, but the surrounding instrumentation owes far more to 70s punk and new wave than any kosmische travellers. Whilst melodic bass lines propel the music in a perpetual forward motion, guitars flicker from angular and razor-sharp to shimmering and forlorn, peppered by the ambient oscillation of synths in the back.

‘Las Puertas De La Noche’ is driven by an intense motorik beat and edgy post punk bass riff, with shouted rather than spoken vocals that ensure the tension in this one doesn’t let up. Add a few screams for good measure and a sufficiently hypnotising guitar riff and you are pulled deep into this one, barely daring to breathe for fear of release. ‘Hombre Animal’ lets up the tension, with a lighter tone that allows a brief reprieve from the sense of overall desolation and foreboding this record creates. ‘El Peso De La Piel’ is a slow burner, but even from the first note the scene is set and it again has this way of pulling you deep into the track, hypnotising with every beat. Title-track ‘El Refugio’ they close on a lighter note, with a shoegaze-indebted comedown that brings the album to a beautiful conclusion.

‘El Refugio’ is a complex offering; with splashes of post-punk, goth rock, krautrock and psychedelia seamlessly blended to make something startlingly familiar yet brand new at the same time. If you didn’t love them before, you will after this.

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