London-based Seafarers—a group of five close-knit and wide-ranging musicians who span the worlds of Celtic, contemporary jazz/improv and chamber pop—follow their “tender, wrenching, resonant masterpiece”(AllMusicOrlando with II, a bittersweet exploration into the depths of teenagerdom. Cue those intense technicolor years of in-betweenness.

It took a decade removed from all the parties, bad decisions and heartache from his teen years for songwriter Matthew Herd, who formed Seafarers in 2013 while studying saxophone at the Royal Academy of Music, to begin to write about that most vulnerable, toxic, muddled and deeply beautiful time. II transports listeners beneath the shiny veneer of idyllic teen years spent amongst manicured lawns and tight-lipped parents in a leafy, middle-class Glasgow suburb. The music here asks, what does it look like when you scratch away the gloss?

The first half of II examines the façade: the fantastical self we present at parties, that obsession with that cool one you’re desperate to hang out with who’s charismatic, back-stabbing, manipulative, gorgeous and destructive. Petulance, sexuality, high school discos, gaslighting, arson and lies are dominant themes.

Opener “A Disappearing Act” is a gently syncopated mid-tempo track framed by delicately rounded keys that begin to cascade upward while gaining both tempo and intensity in the chorus sung by lead vocalist Lauren Kinsella (Snowpoet, Kit Downes). “And the shadows swim/Across our abdomens/As our bodies twist/Behind the multiplex/And the stars turn black/A disappearing act,” lyrics that recall the muddled and loveless intimacies that defined Herd’s earliest relationships.

The thrill of high school parties is present in the bouncy optimistic opening of “Newlyweds,” with Kinsella’s clear and earnestly unadorned alto singing: “Halloween/And we’re all getting dressed up/In face paints and fake blood/And hanging like bats from the trees.” Yet a darkness lingers as the beat picks up and the layers of strings and keys swell with intensity, “I want you to panic/’Cause I’ve seen what’s ahead.”

While the first half takes a microscope to the façade, the second concerns itself with what’s actually happening behind the curtains, beginning with “The Curators,” a song that looks at the shame Held felt surrounding his sexuality beginning in adolescence into his 20s.

“It’s perhaps the most personal song I’ve ever written,” he says of the utterly gut-wrenching solemnity of Kinsella’s unadorned vocals framed simply by keys:  “Wide awake/Scrolling through the private page/Where the kids you said were gay/Would often go to masturbate/And how long can you tell yourself/That this is just a phase?”

“I was curious to write about guilt, shame and some of the uglier emotions that are sometimes best kept internal,” explains Herd. “We often first become aware of these insecure feelings in our adolescence, and perhaps spend our lives grappling with them.”

Ultimately the two halves are intrinsically linked. The drama from the first half is a response to the darker truths in the later songs. Winding all together is closer “All That Matters,” which begins ever-so-gently understated piano before Kinsella comes in to sing “Shame likes to hide in the voices of children who shout when they’re shy.” We act up for a reason. The final refrain ties the two halves together: “All that matters is you’re giving it a try.”

“I can’t imagine not being fascinated by teenagerdom, mainly because I think those experiences shape who we are,” says Herd. “I still encounter the same emotions as I did then, but just in muted tones, and I react with more consideration and empathy. It’s definitely more appropriate, but I can’t help but miss the drama.”

IMAGES: To download, click above. Photo credit to Sarah Lee.