“Art pop” is a nebulous genre, but it’s my favorite genre all the same. True, it’s very vague: within its borders, it contains tuneful-yet-avant-garde artists like Holly Herndon, generally left-of-center pop like Florence + the Machine, and straightforward pop artists like Lorde who the indie snobs consider OK To Like. But no matter what it is, I usually end up liking it. After all, I was drawn into the music world from my love of Florence + the Machine, which eventually turned into love for Kate Bush, Bjork, and Julia Holter. By this point, I could probably recite the entirety of Hounds of Love in my sleep.
It stands to reason, then, that I love “Sea Glass” as much as I do. It’s a new song from ChellaJay, a singer-songwriter from the Pacific Northwest who describes herself as “the voice within the seashell of an oceanic electro-dreamland.” It’s one hell of an elevator pitch, and it’s one that “Sea Glass” more than backs up. This is one of those songs that sounds like its title: the synths gleam in shades of iridescent pinks and purples, like the late great SOPHIE reborn as a mermaid DJ. And while it’s tempting to refer to ChellaJay’s lovely voice as “siren-like,” she sounds too benevolent to lure anybody to their death; if she’s beckoning sailors to her island with her bewitching voice, it’s probably just because she wants to show them a really cool piece of driftwood.
“Sea Glass” may be easy on the ears, but it never feels like it’s coasting. It’s always moving, always flowing forward, never quite going where you expect it to go. Vocal harmonies hang suspended in midair for a moment before the song picks up a driving beat; later in the song, that beat is left to throb and pulse with less adornment before it’s thrillingly built back around it. Skittering, plasticine synth textures occasionally pop up to add even more color, all while ChellaJay’s vocals continue to swirl and shine.
“Sea Glass” isn’t exactly a lyrics-forward song; it doesn’t have to be when it’s such a sonic delight. But there’s one line that stuck out to me since the first time I listened to the song, having to do with vulnerability: according to ChellaJay, when you’re most vulnerable “is when you’re born anew.” While I never thought of “Sea Glass” as a particularly vulnerable song before, there’s definitely a sense of directness to ChellaJay’s vocals. As ethereal as her vocals are, she never sounds like she’s above you, or like she’s hiding something. She sounds open and welcoming, and there’s something to that: just because you’re vulnerable doesn’t mean you’re hurt.