Sea Dramas - Escape Scenes

Royal Oakie Records


You have to wonder what future generations will make of the post-COVID records, so many of which reshape the artistic process, collaboration and recording to reflect a new pandemic reality. Sea Dramas is/was a San Francisco Bay Area quintet, with around seven albums to their credit when the Pandemic hit in the spring of 2020. Their music was probably best-described as hazy folk-pop with 1960s inspired echo-laden melodies and swirling vocal harmonies. As lockdown started to bite and the band’s touring came to an abrupt halt, Scott Pettersen, the band’s creative leader, escaped the isolation to lock himself away in his home studio to write and record the music that would become ESCAPE SCENES. The album’s premise is all linked to the concept of time. During lockdown our perception of time seemed altered, and even now, almost four years on, the Pandemic seems a lifetime ago. Working on his own, Scott provides all instrumentation and vocals, layered to create lush sounds of new-retro cool; a dream-pop lounge record for the emotional daydreamers and mental shapeshifters. With jangly guitars, swirling strings, steady melodic grooves and airy harmonies, he definitely brings to mind 1960s groups like the Sandpipers, with a sunny California vibe. But most impressively, he does so without making the album feel like a big trick. There’s no big reveal that the synths are actually live strings. Instead, Scott uses his unexpected musical tools to create warm tracks that read as pop but have the depth of folk and classical, which is an impressive enough feat.

There’s a mesmerising intricacy to the exquisite Daybreak opening instrumental opus, one of two tracks featuring an outside musician, in this instance David Brandt, providing haunting percussion. With ambiguous layers of polytonality, the beat mutates with ever-shifting details (note the bowed cymbals) and multitudes of violin parts entwine everything else. These Days is the kind of laid back groover that is perfect for passing joints on a sunny day. A languid look at the passing of time, spiraling from a quiet, reflective ballad into a soaring, transporting chorus. Scott’s blend of lo-fi vocals, slappy hooks, and sleepy guitar playing is all over No Poetry. A couple grow old comfortably together but lose the poetry of passion that first ignited their romance. Swiss musician Sara Mohan plays violin and adds the soft airy harmonies to the sunny West Coast vibe.  

The beautiful toe-tapper Sundown reaffirms that desire for transcendence, taking comfort in the thought of ultimately being reunited with the World—not necessarily the uplift some will want! Turn the Tide is filled with even deeper, more vulnerable lyrics, paired with a more mature, polished brand of sunny psych folk-pop, added to the tightly woven harmonies. There aren’t very many singers who can do what Scott does so well on Less Than Useless, which is to brush a painful lost-love ballad with just enough psychedelic dust to keep it feeling current. Ambitious and multifaceted, full of unusual compositions and striking songs, every artistic form has the potential, on its own, to be both transformative and transcendent. ESCAPE SCENES has a serene and entrancing beauty, both in sound and lyrical content. An album worthy of repeated plays.

February 2024