Graphic by Esmé Warmuth and Jane Montalto
The 2020s have ushered in a resurgence of shoegaze. The genre, which has close ties to indie-rock and dream-pop, stands out for its flanged guitars and obscured, reverbed vocals that originated in England in the late 80s with bands such as My Bloody Valentine & Slowdive. While the 2010s provided its fair share of dream-pop, notable bands — such as Alvvays — are only now embracing traditional shoegaze voicings. And as of recent the popularity of those fuzzy, washed-out guitar tones and dreamy, bedroom aesthetics has been on the rise. As demand increases, new talent emerges — namely, Natalie Lew from Seattle, Washington. On Aug. 25, 2023, shortly after signing onto Luminelle Recordings, she released Stop at Nothing — her second EP under the moniker Sea Lemon.
This five-track project has an exceptionally rich diversity of songs, all while maintaining a cohesive theme. No moment is dragged on and nothing sounds repetitive. This feels incredibly refreshing for a genre that is currently severely oversaturated.
However, what separates Sea Lemon from other shoegaze musicians is the juxtaposition between her lyrics and the instrumentals that accompany them. Throughout the EP, she leans into lyrics that depict violent imagery in contrast to the light and floaty instrumentals that accompany them. This motif is especially potent in the first two singles, the catchy “Vaporized” and the densely layered “Cellar.” As the titles suggest, the songs’ characters are vaporized, locked in cellars, torn in half by landslides, stuck underwater or simply fall apart.
Sometimes when I struggle to sleep I
Look up the news
See someone was caught in a landslide
Ripped them in two
In “Vaporized,” she sings these lyrics atop a melody that likes to jump around.
“In the lyrics, I say ‘the cellar is where I belong’ which is me grappling with this idea that sometimes really terrifying imagery interests me the most,” Sea Lemon said in a statement alongside the release of the first single. Just as promised, she weaves her ghastly lyrical choices into musical tracks that are fun and jaunty. These core elements present on this EP help Sea Lemon stand out in an ocean of other artists with similar endeavors.
Distinct, however, does not mean uninspired. For example, Sea Lemon’s song “3A” is reminiscent of Molly Rankin’s early discography, with an echoing riff almost tangled in itself and an extra-punchy drum track that immediately takes you by the hand. The presence of producer-songwriter Jackson Phillips can also be heavily felt as the engineer behind the EP. Phillips, an indie-rock veteran, has worked with artists such as Aviv and Elah Hale. He has received an admirable amount of praise for his self-led project Day Wave, and has been credited as a producer on over 30 synth-pop and indie releases over the last decade. Despite not masking what makes it authentically and distinctively Sea Lemon, what his experience and structure brought out of her brilliant ideas cannot be understated. He is also a featured performer in the song “Breakdown,” which was the final single before the project’s release. In this slower paced track, Phillips and Sea Lemon relay back and forth reverbed lines that completely melt into each other during the hooks. The synergy between the two in terms of production and performance is remarkable.
Compared to Sea Lemon’s previous work, this EP shows a monumental amount of growth from her not only as a songwriter, but also as a visionary. Each track in this collection is unique, carefully planned and tastefully inspired. While some songs on her previous EP were great, like the mellow, melancholic “Eraser,” Stop at Nothing distinguishes Sea Lemon in the genre and shows tremendous promise for the Seattle singer’s future in the industry. By having the most solidified structure of any of her projects, Stop at Nothing serves as a sturdy stepping stone that has the possibility to create a seamless transition into even more expansive and ambitious undertakings in the shoegaze genre.