Seam began as a trio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with Mac McCaughan of Superchunk on drums, Lexi Mitchell playing bass and he-of-the-perpetual-whisper Sooyoung Park (ex-Bitch Magnet) leading the way on guitar and vocals. With an inspirational nod to the spare pop dreaminess of Galaxie 500 and Codeine, Headsparks is a somewhat awkward — but occasionally beautiful — debut. The disc’s highlights generally coincide with its Park-injected lullabies (“Feather,” “Granny 9x”); the most awkward battles take place when he fumbles his way through the perkier Mac-driven ditties (“Grain,” “Atari”).
Things changed for the better once Park and Mitchell split with McCaughan, moved to Chicago, found a friend and producer in Brad Wood (Liz Phair) and grew into a four-piece with the addition of ex-Bastro members Bundy Brown (guitar) and John McEntire (drums). The four-song Kernel‘s best idea is a radical reworking of Headsparks‘ “Shame,” which benefits significantly from a slower pace and Park’s vocals (Velocity Girl’s Sarah Shannon sang the original).
Seam’s lineup turnstile took another spin for The Problem With Me, sending the Bastros on their way and replacing them, albeit briefly, with Craig White (Repulse Kava) and Bob Rising (Repulse Kava/Poster Children). The nine-song record contains some of Seam’s best work: through the minimalist melodies of “Road to Madrid,” “Dust and Turpentine” and the outstanding “Stage 2000,” Young repeatedly hits the less-is-more button to fine effect.
Despite a complete personnel makeover, that quiet strength carries into Are You Driving Me Crazy?, again produced by Wood (except for two tracks produced by Casey Rice). Joining Park here are drummer Chris Manfrin (ex-Travis), bassist William Shin (ex-Poem Rocket) and guitarist Reg Shrader (ex-Circus Lupus). Though Park’s songwriting skills are at their peak (“Port of Charleston,” “Two Is Enough”), the band is unable to provide the same brilliant turbulence that makes The Problem With Me so powerful.