Will Bradford needed a break. As the lead singer, songwriter and mastermind behind cult favorite psychedelic rock band Seepeoples, he had spent the better part of a decade touring, writing and recording — four albums in seven years, to be exact. Bradford, a Bangor native, was increasingly reliant on a variety of chemical substances. Life on the road, in one of the most popular bands on the jam band circuit in the mid-2000s, was not healthy. By 2010, Seepeoples was on indefinite hiatus, and Bradford was in rehab.
But for someone with the work ethic and restless creative spirit of Bradford — someone who at one point played 200 shows per year, and whose songs can veer from Beatles-esque melodies to dub-drenched reggae rhythms — it’s hard to stay quiet for too long. While Seepeoples was on break, Bradford had moved back home to Maine from his adopted base of Asheville, North Carolina, and was getting clean and sober and, eventually, cranking out song after song. Out of those more than 40 songs written in that period, 25 eventually made their way to the recording studio with long time producer Will Holland, and onto Seepeoples’ first proper album in six years, “The Dead Souls Sessions,” a beast of a double album that comes out next week.
In many ways, “Dead Souls” picks up right where the band left off in 2009, with “Apocalypse Cow Vol. 2,” with the wild stylistic diversity, psychedelic undercurrents and an inherent appreciation and skill at melody still front and center. In many ways, however, it is different — not least in the fact that he has a completely different backing band, comprised of Maine musicians including drummer Dan Capaldi, keyboardist Frank Hopkins, guitarist and synth player Brooke Binion and bassist Ian Riley.
Bradford’s also had half a decade to think about who he was as a person and a musician, and that reflective tone shines through in the lyrics. Hitting rock bottom and coming back would force anyone to ponder life’s big questions, and much of “Dead Souls” deals with the fallout from that — mortality, guilt, pain and, eventually, redemption make their way into the songs. Those big feelings are matched by the music, from the woozy, tortured “Waltz of the Damned” and the twitchy, dark “The Guns, The Bullets” on the first disc, to the wounded “Sight For Sore Eyes” and the soaring, dynamic “Last Friend in the World” on the second disc — all of which are among the best songs on the album. There’s a lot to process here, and Bradford is taking us all along on the ride.
Amid the recovery, there’s still moments of unabashed melodic glee, something Bradford takes obvious pleasure in, like on “Coma Vacation Hostage,” an upbeat and extremely enjoyable song about self-loathing, in the grand tradition of The Cure and The Smiths. “Holy Ghost Charter Song” and “Conifers of China” on the first disc and “Heavy Goat” and “Hide and Seek” on the second bring to mind the electronic psych-rock that came out of England in the early-to-mid-2000s, like Blur, the Super Furry Animals or the Beta Band. Bradford does not appear to be interested in pursuing any contemporary musical trends — he has a vision, and he’s sticking to it.
There’s a wealth of strong songs on “Dead Souls,” and when Bradford hits it right, he’s at the top of his game. But, let’s face it — two discs were probably too much. I know it’s hard to cut songs, especially when they clearly hold vast personal importance and were a huge part of the recovery process, but “Dead Souls” would have been a better album as a single disc, rather than including nearly two hours of music. That said, do not sleep on this one, dear readers. Scattered among these 25 songs, there’s the best album Seepeoples has ever released.