Atonal white noise comes blaring out of the silence flanked with a robotic melody that claws its way to the surface of the mix in the opening bars of CEEM’s new single “Better Than That,” and it isn’t but ten seconds into this latest release from the critically acclaimed, Seattle-based songwriter that we find ourselves trapped in the throes of his hypnotic – though quite experimental – harmonies. A synthetic melodicism powered by a violent bassline pushes rhythmic lashings out of the speakers with impunity, leaving a haunting trail of reverberated textures in their wake. CEEM starts to sing, and in the very timbre of his voice we find an emotional subtext that won’t be fully explored in the lyrical content he shares with us here. There have been so many exciting new sounds emerging from the American underground in the late 2010s, but few tracks to debut out of the Pacific Northwest this summer have been as multilayered as this most recent studio effort from CEEM is, which I would describe as some of his best material to see release since his rookie offering made waves locally back in 2005.

“Better Than That” has a sublimely surreal stylization to both its lyrics and instrumental parts, but the rhythm of this single has just enough swing to make it a fun, danceable club tune as much as it would be a cool, ambient background track for a summer road trip. The verses themselves are quite intriguing and multi-interpretive, but they’re also wholly devoid of the sort of enigmatic poeticisms that have plagued a lot of CEEM’s contemporaries in and outside of the Seattle scene in the past decade. I actually think that, because of the sizable bassline, “Better Than That” would probably play better with industrial fans than it will synthpop enthusiasts, which is an interesting shift in artistry for this player. CEEM has flirted with harsh tonality in the past (though not nearly as much as some of his mid-2000s peers in the fabled ‘Sewer Circuit’ did), but even at their most venomous, the harmonies we discover in this song never devolve into an unlistenable clatter.

If “Better Than That” is a taste of what we can expect to hear on CEEM’s long-awaited new album, set to be released this September and available everywhere that independent music is sold and streamed, then I haven’t the slightest doubt in my mind as to whether or not he’s going to be one of his scene’s most talked about stars in the next year. It’s been awhile since CEEM was making music on a consistent basis, but despite his hiatus I think that he’s sounding more adept and on-point in his music here than he ever did in the past. He’s smoothed out the rough edges, found his most comfortable style of play and further cultivated his emo/electronic (“emotronic”) hybridity into a fierce beast that currently goes unmatched on the American side of the Atlantic. This is a turning point for CEEM, and I don’t believe he could have picked a much better time to return to the headlines.

Sebastian Cole

The music of CEEM has been heard all over the world due to the radio plugging services offered by Musik and Film Records. Learn more –