Arunima, Hello Seahorse!
by Sam Rodgers
Mexico's Hello Seahorse! return with their fifth studio album, Arumina, a word which apparently signifies the glow of dawn. The ripple of synths that open first track "Buen Viaje" herald the sun breaking over the horizon, but one suspects the adage about a red morning being the sailor's warning might hold true for this collection of focused, defiant songs. Denise Gutiérrez (Lo Blondo) leads the band like the general of an army, loud enough to reach the nosebleed section, Hello Seahorse! are taking that exclamation mark very seriously, they want to fill stadiums. Even when Lo Blondo's lyrics are about letting go, if you're the person in question, you'll still see her face on every maxi-screen around you—you are not to forget.
For a band with such a signature sound as Lo Blondo's soprano-rock voice, it's hard to pin down what soundscape they want to inhabit. They've gone from cute, put-a-bird-on-it indie, all hand claps and melodica, to pop rock, and more recently to a much darker, experimental place, like they've decided that to be taken seriously, you must be stone-faced serious. For this reason, it's harder to warm to a Hello Seahorse! track these days, unless you happen to be in a similarly downbeat or angsty frame of mind. Listening seriously, and critically, there's much to admire about the ideas floated during the eleven tracks of Arunima. The production by Grammy-winning producer and composer Camilo Froideval is slick, giving the album a grand, symphonic sound, whilst keeping Lo Blondo's voice front and center. Case in point, "Tristes," with its woodwind, clicks, and smoky jazz club bass line, makes you visualize Lo Blondo entertaining gentlemen like Jessica Rabbit. You can almost see them mesmerized and a little frightened by the siren song. Unfortunately, "Tristes" doesn't fulfil its club lounge style promises. The general signals for the drums, and what could've been a cheeky, sexy breather becomes another stadium rocker, reminiscent of Sweet & Sour, Hot y Spicy-era Ely Guerra. While not necessarily a bad thing, it skews the band's attempts at capturing their own sound, which is driven by the phrasing and timbre of Lo Blondo's voice.
Thankfully, the tracks are scattered with her yelps and squeals and other throat-trickery, and, when paired with the right instrument (like the glockenspiel at the end of title track, or the synth opener “huh!”s of "No Es Que No Te Quiera"), it's easier to throw your rock star-gloved fist in the air. Yes, Lo Blondo, we're with you! Standout track "No Te Vayas Al Bosque" opens with whistling and choppy piano chords, the band tentatively steps in, ducks back out, then returns with horns for a memorable rollick through the forest. Strangely, lead single, "Para Mí," with its straightforward urgency, actually isolates the singer, it's cold, desperate, kinda scary. Again, a song constructed more for the mosh pit than audio intimacy.
The album fluctuates between this hot and cold, pull and push soundscape, like Lo Blondo doesn't want you to fall too much in love with her singular and beautiful instrument. It's a difficult album to listen to in one go, drowned in emotive sound which overshadows more nuanced and interesting flourishes in parts. The band turns it up to 11 too often, which may ingratiate or frustrate, depending on whether a listener is a long-term fan or not. (Or is the type to lap up Florence and The Machine.) In fact, this is what might be the problem. When the singer's voice is as big a prospect as the rest of the band, something has got to give. When both work harmoniously, though, Arunima shines golden, if off the hilt of Lo Blondo's sword.