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Soundcheck: Chelsea Days - Chelsea Days

On its first proper LP, one of Oklahoma City’s best new indie bands evokes blissful ease beyond its existentialist borders — and how!

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For such a breezy, feel-good band, Chelsea Days sure seems to be haunted by mortality. On track after track of its self-titled studio debut, sunsetted memories and future ghosts swirl in shimmering depths of existentialism. The songs are never outright depressed, but neither do they ever quite find joy. They simply swim with the tide, taking comfort not in dreams but in acceptance. One might think this would result in a deflated record, but it is nonetheless fruitful in its indie rock island of relaxation. From beginning to end, a sweet sea of warm emotions rises to greet the senses.

Atmospheric flourishes of whirring synthesizers, clean guitar, and dew-drop effects create layers of gentle sonic blankets to drown out the listener’s surroundings. Soft-rock saxophone frequently woos the instrumentation throughout the tracklist. Meanwhile, crisp drums and self-sampling glitch manipulations keep the songs from drifting too far into the mists by sprinkling the breeze with zesty photons of sunlight. This is the casual, summertime soundtrack for a rooftop poolside cocktail party filmed in hazy slow motion.

Where many of its peers are still finding retro inspiration in the 1980s, Chelsea Days seems to be more interested in the late 60s and early 70s. Its guitar sounds echo the birth of psychedelia, and its moderately paced arrangements sometimes feel like technicolor lounge music. If indie rock could sound like a vibraphone, this is it. There are even some tiny bits of brass in lead single “Dealer’s Hand” that sound like Henry Mancini-era easy listening. It is no coincidence that the minimal album art reads like a post-Saul Bass brand logo in its typography, geometry, and old game show color scheme. The design also looks destined for the center of a vinyl record should the day ever come that pressings become affordable to independent bands.

Chelsea Days is a modern record, though, and nothing conveys that more than the lyrics. With news cycles perpetually reminding new generations of Americans that their society is doomed for one reason or another, young music artists are grappling with ill fates, and Chelsea Days is no exception. “Better Days” sings that “Better days are far behind / Nothing’s gonna last the test of time.” “As I Go” fixates on the physical aspects of mortality. “Jenny’s Song” is more interested in exploring the afterlife than the present, saying that “We’re all just waiting for the end / But I’m not patient.” It gets pretty dour.

It does sound gorgeous, though, and not in a way that glamorizes the gloom. If anything, it feels numb to it. Some of these songs come from the band’s phenomenal 2020 demo, Unemployment Tapes, which was created in the Twilight Zone of the COVID-19 pandemic. That sense of unclocked time permeates Chelsea Days, aided by moments of track beginnings and endings bleeding into one another. Ruminating on existential ideas can feel like floating in the abyss, and that’s what the band captures here with a key twist. When one accepts the void as a blank canvas rather than a black hole, the colors one manifests can be euphoric.

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