Sounds You Need In Your Ears
Episode 2: Seethe
Some events that happen in life will stay with you in the way that they made you feel. Graduating from high school. Your first kiss. Moving out of home. Sex diseases that you caught from a questionable pursuit one night in a dive bar. Going bankrupt and then having to live on the run from an endless stream of less-than-amicable creditors.
… come to think of it, some of those things aren’t actually very good at all. Thankfully, other seemingly more innocuous things, too — better ones, arguably – will stick around, like a moment that imprint itself like a branding iron has been forced into your frontal lobe. I can still remember the day that Seethe stumbled their way into my life, and like the worst kind of shitty houseguest, have pretty much refused to leave ever since.
It was late in 1998, which in Brisbane was a particularly warm approach to summer. We weren’t lucky enough to have air conditioning at my childhood home, so everybody was slumped on couches and beds like dying bumble bees under what little good the hodgepodge mismatch army of fans offered. That setting, as inauspicious as it sounds, was the perfect stage for one of the most intense experiences I had in my early life. It was almost like the horrible environment had opened every pore on my body and primed it for what was about to permeate me to my core.
Sometime in the mid-afternoon, my brother’s friend, Russell (somebody who will probably get a lot of mentions in future episodes, given his unquestionable presence as a staunch influence in my musical education), came in a bit of a fevered panic. In his hot little hands, he held what he described at the time as one of the coolest looking albums ever — Cringe. None of us really knew what to expect of it. Hell, none of us really knew much about it at all. We didn’t even know what genre it was, so all bets were off the table in terms of what we would find mere minutes later.
Even the album name was a mystery: was it called Seethe by a band named Cringe? Or was it the other way around? It’s only actually in the last few years that I was able to confirm one way or the other.
He wasn’t actually wrong in his estimations about the look: it is genuinely still one of the coolest album packages I’ve ever seen. Far from the works of the likes of Hipgnosis (creators of some of the most widely known album art in history: Pink Floyd’s Animals, Dark Side of The Moon, and Wish You Were Here, Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy and In Through the Out Door, and the majority of Peter Gabriel’s eponymous Peter Gabriel collection), Cringe has a very different appeal – especially when you’re a bunch of bored teenagers who are easily impressed with gimmicks. It featured a bunch of LEGO men riding dirt bikes in an apocalyptic fog, with others immersed in a hot-tub of alphabet soup. To seal the deal, they included ball bearings in the shoulder of the CD case which jostled about like a poor man’s maraca. I think it was possibly the BBs that sold the whole affair, it was just so alien to anything else we’d ever seen.
As it turns out, the cover couldn’t have prepared us for that first listen, carried by my brother’s all-in-one tape/CD/radio contraption that every 90s big kid had. The album opens with a nasal, whiny punk voice that so typified the time, singing a tongue-in-cheek ode to Angus MacGyver (named, would you believe… ‘MacGuyver’), backed by this band that could easily stick it to the best rock had to offer; not just in the punk scene, but any scene. The packaging wasn’t just some cheap gimmick to shift units of a shitty record in a land far-flung from where it was first conceived: it was heralding what I now recognise as one of the most unimpeachably perfect records that I’d heard until then, and indeed, have heard since. I mean, it was a cheap gimmick… but it had the trousers to back its mouth.
By this point, a grand total of 2:52 in, we were all pretty much sat there floored by this record.
The lyrical japery didn’t end there. Another track on the album, ‘Chicken McThrash‘ is a ho-down hootenanny that details the story of a pot-smoking chicken who abandons the farm of his birth to go to the city and work at a fast-food restaurant. It’s genuinely hard to listen to without breaking out into at least a gentle boogie in your seat. Ooooh, these boys are good. Then there’s ‘Rut‘, the tale of a protagonist who is cheated on and then has all of his possessions stolen (and his dog shot…?). I’m not entirely sure it’s relatable stuff, but I don’t really actually care.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s ‘Estranged‘. A mostly acoustic bass and haunting lyrical affair, accompanied by a wailing, injured guitar sustaining long, distorted notes. Even after all this time, it gives me goosebumps. The last two tracks on the record are in such heavy contrast to the fast and upbeat tunes before them – it’s almost as if they’re trying to force you to leave them on a melancholy note.
With all of that said, it’s not like the 90s were a barren place when it came to music of the sort; for every 10 popular songs that emerged, at least 4 of them were of similar ilk: crunchy distortion, nasal vocals, big drums, driving bass. By now, the big names in Grunge had very much been and gone, Britpop was more or less over, and the likes of blink-182 and Green Day were dominating the airwaves on the backs of their singles, ‘Dammit‘ and ‘Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)‘ respectively. It was almost impossible to turn on the radio at the time without hearing a skater-looking dude with bleached hair and a distorted Stratocaster crooning about some vaguely relatable wank.
Probably the greatest attribute that set this record apart was, far beyond what many of the days were able to muster, Cringe displayed a very real versatility in sound. Not one song on the record sounds particularly much like any other that precedes or follows it, but it all sits together perfectly neatly and flows together in a way I can’t imagine altering.
With pretty much every poppish- punk band from the era, you could play Dreamteam Football with the line-ups and not have it ruin the sound in any appreciable way. That’s not to say that the prevailing sound of the time was bad, because it really wasn’t; it’s just that they really weren’t setting the world alight with their range and diversity. Case in point: blink-182’s Dude Ranch – one of my favourite albums of the era – I still can’t name every song on it, which as a huge music trivia nerd is a genuine oddity.
Through that haze of humidity, teenage sweat, and whatever remained of the substances that the local “pharmacist” (ahem) had supplied, this was the record of the moment. Those sounds, they raised some strange beast inside of me that’s been peeking out every now and again, hoping for a friend to come and play. Little did I know, 2 decades later, I’d be writing about that very afternoon. I’ve done my best over the years to try to share Seethe with those I could, pretty much at every opportunity. Even at opportunities that don’t exist, so do I love them.
Unlike a lot of bands that have been in heavy rotation on my playlists for any extended period of time, Seethe are a band that I have neither much of, nor much information about. In many ways, they are like a covert virus that snuck its way into my body, and I’ve been doing battle with it ever since. It’s a benevolent virus, so it can stay. It nearly left as quickly as it arrived – the original CD was stolen, and all we had left to remind us was a bunch of shitty 128Kbps MP3s that I’d had the forethought to rip at the time.
While drinking a not inconsiderable amount one night a few years ago, I accidentally searched Apple Music instead of my iTunes library for them. To my amazement, I wasn’t greeted with the usual, “No results were found” malarkey it so often gives me… there it was, in all its glory. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Nup, I was really experiencing something that I’d always figured was little more than a pipe-dream. I made my way to Google, and lo – a link to Amazon, and a link to Spotify. It wasn’t Christmas, but man, it felt like it. Hearing the sounds with anything better than the lossiest of lossy digital bootlegs for the first time in years felt like the purest sunlight.
I’m not even sure if they have other music. I’ve genuinely not been able to find anything else from them, or even any trace not directly related to the record. I don’t even know who produced it or who recorded it. I believe it was independently released through Seethe themselves, but once more… a dead end. In thinking about it, I’m not actually particularly upset over it. The intrigue only adds to the appeal. And I do wonder, if like so many other great artists, if they would’ve burned out ingloriously and left a permanent scar on a work which is so highly revered.
So for now, their entire existence is captured in that half-hour snapshot, rendered unto me on a fateful afternoon all those years ago. For me, they are as much an event as they are a band: a summary of what it is to have the purest of experiences with music. That is, as far as I’m concerned, the highest praise you can possibly bestow on a band.
With as much as I can implore you, you need to hear Seethe. They are, very much so, sounds you need in your ears.
Feature by Benji Alldridge