Having followed Avi Roig’s Harsh R project almost since inception, there’s a strange clarity found in listening to new LP: while it’s been clear for a while that Roig’s harsh, caustic electronics and yelled vocals were a vehicle for complex emotions beyond cathartic release, Seek Comfort shines a light on just how much nuance and variety the Pacific Northwest artist has built into his primary musical outlet.
Some may recall Dark Tymes EP from 2021, in which Roig covered his own acrimonious songs in acoustic fashion. Beyond the novelty of hearing those songs rendered in the country-folk style, it revealed the strong structural bones of the material, often hidden behind the waves of distilled rancor in their delivery and sound design. Seek Comfort similarly lays bare a lot of the foundations of Harsh R’s material, and while there are certainly numbers that adhere closely to the project’s classic template – “Devotional” and “I Was Never There” will peel the paint off your walls if played at the right volume – there are plenty of new approaches, both subtle and overt applied to intriguing effect.
The opening title track serves its role admirably as mood-setter for the album in both form and attitude; while the elegiac synth melody that drives the track still distorts and crackles around its edges, it doesn’t overpower Roig’s half-whispered vocals or the track’s thrumming bass, those latter elements building to an unshowy but still affecting emotional climax. “Syster Sol” has the structure and melody of a ballad, but is executed in ferocious fashion with Roig chewing through the Swedish lyrics before ceding the track’s chorus to an orchestra of scraping metal, ending up as brutalist synthpop of a strange new kind.
When paired with some fresh instrumentation and production touches those songwriting gambles take on still further dimensions. The plodding pace of “Are You My People?” (which we suspect is another of Roig’s songs written from his dog’s POV) has a tangible heaviness to it that lends further impact to the unexpected smoky saxophone break, just as the uncharacteristic autotune of “Wave Goodbye” brings out the song’s contemplative atmosphere. Those elements are more than just swerves for their own sake, but choices that cajole the listener to places that they may never have ventured with Roig, or ever expected to before. With Seek Comfort, Harsh R applies a subtle touch with a contradictory level of force. Recommended.