I knew nothing about musician and artist Sean Schuster-Craig (a.k.a. Jib Kidder) before I listened to his album Teaspoon To The Ocean. But rather than my ignorance detracting from the experience, it positively enhanced it. Coming to this masterpiece with no prior knowledge of the man or the work felt a little like first locking eyes with a future lover: utterly unexpected, yet totally thrilling.
And I do mean masterpiece. From beginning to end, Teaspoon To The Ocean is a work of hypnotic, enthralling beauty. The songs are messy without being a mess; lofty without being overly serious; gentle without being trite. Comparisons to the work of other musicians can be made – there is a touch of Animal Collective’s relentless imagination to album opener Remove A Tooth, and the genre playfulness of In Between calls to mind the work of Ariel Pink– but Teaspoon To The Ocean is never shackled to the music that inspired it. It remains a true original, developing a feeling and then nailing the listener to it.
Schuster-Craig claims his work is designed to “harness the humour and ambiguous poignancy specific to the experience of dreaming”, and indeed tracks like Situations in Love have an invigoratingly otherworldly feel. This is an album of ethereal beauty, but it never announces itself as such. Indeed, its success comes from how unassuming it is: it’s never grandiose, or distancing. It works in ways that are sleight, but never less than amazing.
After all, despite the fact Schuster-Craig is obviously a very bright man – he has mentioned the work of Roberto Bolano and Slavoj Zizek in interviews – Teaspoon To The Ocean is meant to be experienced with the heart rather than the head. Songs like The Waves immediately connect on an emotional level, flowing with a seemingly natural power that is difficult to describe. None of the songs are ostensibly about anything – they’re not enigmas to be cracked or decoded, and their lyrics offer up no secrets when overanalysed – but they would lose their power if they were. Tracks like World of Madness work like magic eye pictures: although they are layered with textures and tones, they are at their most impressive when viewed from afar, with an eye on the bigger picture rather than the individual strokes of Schuster-Craig’s sonic brush.
Not to imply that Schuster-Craig is without a sense of fun, either: he knows the energy a good saxophone solo can bring to the proceedings, and the infectious upbeat tempo of Appetites makes it a crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the word.
To misappropriate a quote by Neil Gaiman, choosing my favourite song from Teaspoon To the Ocean would be a little like choosing which limb I would least like to lose. That said there is no denying the soothing, inventive beauty of Dozens or the ever-building power of nine and a half minute long Melt Me.
Teaspoon To The Ocean is that rare thing – an album that never puts a foot wrong. There is something deeply comforting about being in the hands of a musician who knows exactly what he’s doing.
When all is said and done, the overwhelming feel the album leaves behind is one of generosity: without ever overstating itself, Teaspoon To The Ocean spends a total running time of 39 minutes and 44 seconds gently showing you its gifts. The most beautiful of unexpected random encounters, it has already curled up and taken residence in my life. Musicians of 2015, this is your call to action: the bar has already been raised exceedingly high.