Album Review: Sea Oleena’s Shallow

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Sea Oleena, the recording name of Charlotte Oleena, first appeared in the musical world in 2010. She released two EPs over the course of one year, both rooted in acoustic guitar — yet straying from anything typically folky. Sea Oleena, instead, entered an other-worldly realm as she played with production, loops and echo. Then, after releasing one more project, Sleeplessness in 2011, she disappeared for three years with nary a peep, only to reappear this year with her debut album, Shallow. Listening to the album, it becomes very clear why there was such a long wait.  

Shallow is everything Sea Oleena was building toward with the release of her EPs. It is a much more elegant, refined body of work. The first song on the album, “If I’m,” exemplifies a labored process of peeling back layers for the listener. Tinkering piano and Oleena’s angelic voice are augmented quickly by subtle, almost shivering, strings. An electronic beat comes in only to disappear as the track shrinks further and further, eventually ending on a long, beautiful ambient coda.    

The increased presence of piano and strings that compliment each song on the album add a greater dimension to Oleena’s work than ever before. Her previous work was always a give and take between lighter and darker elements, but the new instrumentation helps to flesh out the darker parts.

The title track is a back and forth between piano and violin, a quiet contrast forming over its seven minutes. The tracks, still rooted in guitar, match the feel of the album, existing in a much more subdued state, like the downer dream pop of “Shades of Golden” or the quiet plucking on the closing track, “Paths,” that elevates its melancholic core.

The penultimate track of the album, the over-11 minute “Vinton, La,” manages to be the album’s most minimal track, composed of little more than Oleena with her piano and cello, excluding all of the production flourishes that exist elsewhere on the album. Yet, with so little, Oleena demonstrates how powerful her work actually is, with the track never feeling dull while it slowly unravels the amount of sorrow and beauty it contains inside of it.

More than anything Oleena has created before, Shallow is a haunting work. The soft dread that permeates the record is present even just looking at the album art — an outstretched hand with blood running along the ring finger. It’s a stark picture, the presence of which hangs heavily over the album. It’s not a dark record, but it also does not hide from pain or sorrow.

Shallow is an album that has clearly been worked and reworked to a meticulous degree. Every second feels carefully considered and recorded until it reached perfection. This is an album that takes hold within its first few moments, enveloping every note with a heavy atmosphere. Shallow is stunning; it burrows into a small part of the soul and lingers there long after the last track has played.