The solo ambient instrumentalist from a volcanic island releases a stirring album perfect for pause and reflection, which might be what some of us need now more than ever.
From Overseas is the guitar-based experimental project from musician/composer Kévin Séry, who is originally from the French island of Réunion but now resides in Norfolk, Virginia. For having just relocated a few years ago to the Naval port city from which I write, Séry is already woven in to the fabric of the city’s small but mighty music scene, having performed in a number of notable coastal VA bands (Bantustans, Long Division, Death Valley Rally, and currently You’re Jovian). To say that he’s been embraced by the community is an understatement, so it is with much duty and honor that I pick up the pen from our fallen comrade, the great Jeff Hewitt, who had agreed to write this album review before his untimely passing. Out now digitally and on vinyl by way of Past Inside The Present, the debut full-length album by From Overseas is titled Home, and it is to Séry’s island home of Réunion that I go first to understand it.
Located off the eastern coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, Réunion is referred to as a “French department and region of the French Republic”. With a population of just under a million, it operates with nearly the same political status as French metropolitan departments within continental Europe, including electing representatives in French government and members of European Parliament, as well as using the euro for currency. Interesting facts, to be sure, but what really grabs me are the photos. A quick internet flyover reveals postcard landscapes lined with seductive coasts and dramatic waterfalls. The island is home to several volcanoes in various states of activity, the most volatile Piton de la Fournaise having just erupted this past July. I study the colors: darkness in the brooding mountain ranges giving passage to lush greenery while intense flashes of neon orange lava flowing wherever it feels like. I imagine the sounds if these chasms could echo and amplify the eons of underground movements made by the earth’s crust.
With the geographic background of Réunion in mind, it’s not hard to put oneself in these photos while listening to Home. Struck by the reality of not being able to travel anywhere in the near future, this is either the cure or cause for some serious wanderlust. I am hypnotized by the slow and steady build ups that From Overseas lays before me, inviting footsteps down an undiscovered path. “Utopia” takes its time in leading me to its precipice, the crescendo lasting just long enough to briefly forget how I got there. Consistently clocking in around the five-minute mark, each song is its own meditation, with song titles like “Daybreak” and “Astronomer” providing contemplative prompts. Most of the sonic landscape is cultivated by layered guitars drenched in reverb and delay with patches of synthesizers tastefully sprouting throughout. Melodies teeter on the razor’s edge of melancholy and euphoria and sometimes you’re not sure whether you’re moving upwards, downwards, or through something. Mastered by Stephen Mathieu, the album is a stereophonically gratifying flex, recommended by this listener to be enjoyed on the best speakers or headphones you have.
My favorite tracks on the album is the last one, “Erasing Dark”. The song starts slowly and sparsely with a single repeating guitar line, so soft you can hear Sery’s fingers glide up and down his guitar strings. New layers are introduced, a picked riff provides a rhythmic pulse, and in the distance a higher frequency begins its ascent. This could be the soundtrack to your greatest triumph or your deepest fear, but there’s an undeniable feeling of emotion when you let the music rush over you. My mind leaves the island and wanders to far away places and as I’m transported I think about the concept of home. What is home but a comfortable space from which to dream?
Having gone through my own period of fondness for late 90s – early 2000s instrumental rock bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, I listen to From Overseas and postulate what drew me to this style of music during that time of my life. As a kid from a small town having moved to a bigger city to attend college, I had jumped headfirst into the deep end of experience. In between my first philosophy classes and college parties, head swirling with a concoction of confusion and possibility, I stayed plugged in to guitar-based instrumental music. It was the soundtrack I used to burn off my old beliefs and blaze new trails of thought. I did not want any lyricists at that time to tell me how to think or feel while I shed the skin of my former self.
Now I find myself in this present moment. The combination of slow-motion panic over the pandemic and the shared responsibility of forced isolation to quell it has brought the world to a point of shifting standards. If you need someone else influencing your thoughts, there’s no shortage of opinions to be found through the screen you’re reading this on. To resist the feeling of drowning in online content, I use Home and other instrumental music as a life preserver. My hope is that whoever’s ears From Overseas music floats into, they give it enough time to find a place in the vast cosmos of the mind to settle for a moment of introspection. My recommendation is do not read the news to it, do not scroll down your feed to it, do not swipe over blips of social advertising to it. Allow yourself the comfortable space to dream.
Home is out now from Past Inside the Present, label and resource for the ambient listener. If you enjoy listening to From Overseas and music like his, we encourage you to discover similar artists from the PITP catalog. To read more about From Overseas from the aforementioned music journalist Jeff Hewitt, here is a live show review with photos from his blog, The Antonym. RIP Jeff ❤