SETH SENTRY’S STRANGE NEW PAST PRESENTS A STRANGE NEW FUTURE
Story by D. Dylyn Ford-Silva
Seth Marton, better known by rap moniker Seth Sentry, is a Melbourne-based rapper who in February this year finished his first nationwide tour as a solo attraction. Often considered a pioneer of Australia’s growing hip hop culture, along with the likes of Bliss n Eso, Hilltop Hoods and Pez, Seth has experienced a surge in popularity since his 2008 debut single The Waitress Song garnered him both cult following and taste of mainstream success. This year, Seth struck gold with sophomore LP Strange New Past, the follow-up release to his successful This Was Tomorrow.
Peaking at #6 on the ARIA Charts in 2012, This Was Tomorrow would be Seth Sentry’s first full-length album (released through High Score Records and distributed by Inertia), generating airplay with singles Float Away and Dear Science. In April 2013, Seth was given the opportunity to perform both songs on American late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!, however the Frankston-raised poet would not spark interest in the United States, nor would any remarkable fandom come his way where other nations were concerned.
Be that as it may, Seth is still enjoying the luxury of fame on home shores, with consistently sold-out shows on his 50+ date schedule, as well as his second LP reaching an ARIA peak of #2—and what a deserving crown to be wearing! Strange New Past travels above and beyond previous Seth Sentry releases, exploring more complex philosophical ideas than the aforementioned This Was Tomorrow, while it showcases a richer brand of poetry than The Waiter Minute EP. This is perhaps Seth Sentry’s best work to date, and an inarguable landmark in Australian rap music, released yet again by High Score and distributed through Inertia. Although built on the same old foundations that were laid in 2008, a post-modern house was constructed from the minds of producer Stylaz Fuego and Seth Sentry himself, with beats that can only be described as “out of this world” (though, I suppose, the non-sensationalist expression might be “creative”).
Strange New Past starts hot with opening track, How Are You. Conceptually, How Are You attempts to answer the eponymous question, though in true Seth Sentry fashion, considers the question superficial, fittingly using dry sarcasm lyrically and in tone, as made evident in the chorus: “Tell me what you need, tell me how you are. Hold that thought, and just keep telling me you’re fine.” A major theme introduced in Strange New Past‘s opening track is the feeling of isolation, a prominent theme throughout the remainder of the record.
Following immediately after is Run, a song that listeners might already be familiar with. Released as a single in December 2014, Run is little more than a standard (but still great) rap song about the emcee’s hometown of Frankston and growing up in the surrounding peninsula. This is an example of Seth’s no-holds-barred style of rapping truly crystallising on a record, as he informs the listener of days past where he smoked a lot of pot, broke many-a law and ran from police. Interestingly, Seth confesses to his audience that he misses “doing the wrong thing and giving false names”, insisting that the “little kid, telling you to shut up” is “still there, in the back of [his] head”. That image of an adolescent mischief-maker is converted to a caricature later in the record through Hell Boy, the album’s second single, wherein Seth is compared to the devil himself by means of exaggeration. Hell Boy hosts what just might be the most interesting individual concept on this entire record, using religion’s prominent antagonist as a metaphor for his own personal growth as a man and an artist, all orchestrated with unusual flows atop just as perverse beats. (Not to mention, containing what could be my favourite rhyme ever: “There ain’t no-one on ‘ma’ level of malevolence.”)
In the meantime, Strange New Past takes a deeply personal route more reminiscent in writing of The Waiter Minute EP, with Violin. Seth has said that this ballad is “by the far the most difficult song [he has] ever written in his life”, as he, and for the first time in open forum, tells the story of his absent father. Violin ventures to incredible depths of the artist’s character, acknowledging his depression, anger and drug habits, then attributing all of which to his father, as each bar is delivered with emotion that bleeds through the speakers and into my own heart to form somewhat of an empathetic aching. The personal story of Seth Marton continues with album closer and second ballad Sorry, which can be summed up entirely in just two bars: “Someone told me [to] stuff my ‘sorrys’ in a sack, / but it’s getting too heavy for my back.”
Tracks such as Dumb, Fake Champagne, Hate Love and Rooftop Hooligans hit the classic vibe that Seth Sentry fans have grown accustomed to; blending an underground-sound with crafty wordplay, while Seth takes the listener on a journey through his own perception of the world, as done in prior releases. If nothing else, these four tracks are fun, a simple gesture often overlooked in the endless pretension of modern musical artists. Nobody Like Me offers a change of pace, not just from the album’s primary concepts, but from Seth’s usual work entirely, in the form of tongue-in-cheek bragging; while the thought of self-oriented lyrical content might be discouraging to some, an appearance by talented fellow Australian rapper REMI, delivering Nobody Like Me‘s chorus and hooks, is a definite saving grace. The only track on Strange New Past that I’ve not quite found myself appreciating as much as the rest is 1969, where Seth Sentry offers political commentary on the 1969 Moon Landing event, subverting the massive event to a meagre extension of the Cold War, and in doing so, he questions the overreaching of modern science in similar tone to popular 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner; a mummer’s farce, in my eyes. Essentially, I believe 1969 to be to Strange New Past what the song Vacation was to This Was Tomorrow (or, what Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da was to The White Album)—that is to say, an unnecessary inclusion, in spite of gathering warm response from fans and critics alike. Personal taste, I do suppose, but the whole thing just seems so… “uneventful”.
Standing tall, high above all other recordings in perhaps his entire career, Pripyat—split in two parts—comes, like a hurricane, ferociously to the listener’s ear, telling of Seth’s desire to “up and leave” to the abandoned site of the Chernobyl meltdown, in a beautifully unorthodox way. Pripyat (Part 1) sets up the looming epic that is Part 2, as Seth Sentry introduces “Pripyat” as both the real, decimated ghost-town and his own idealistic Utopia, isolated and desolate within the confines of his mind, throwing back often to 2008 track, the fan-favoured Strange Lot, with lyrics such as: “A faint ghost through the raindrops, / pace a frozen train stop. / I’ve changed a lot / since a waiter jotted Strange Lot.” and “A lonely town that I walk around / in my head, to fix up / dry water fountains / and dirty pigeon feathers”. Fading away with the penultimate lyric “pity, my mind is in Pripyat”, Part 1 then becomes Pripyat (Part 2), a bonafide masterpiece that leads appropriately with “In in a place where I take a little refuge”. As I’d written, this two-parter stands high above any thing else that Seth Sentry has produced in his career, and I believe it does so both lyrically and musically, with progressive vocal melodies building in sync with a steady beat, creating an atmosphere of despair throughout verses that builds to a mellow chorus, carrying the listener’s mind, mesmeric, along to Seth Sentry’s Utopian wasteland, as delivered transcendentally so by underground electronic artist Kučka; “All I need is somewhere to restore my faith, / and I’m gone. / I feel like some day I’ll see that I was always there; / Pripyat”. Both parts of Pripyat are surely a must-listen affair. Consider this Seth Sentry’s magnum opus, if you will.
Rest assured, Strange New Past is an album absolutely worthy of a purchase, be it a physical buy or through iTunes, truly boasting its own sound across thirteen tracks without a need for any (objective) filler material. Seth Sentry paints a third self-portrait on this record, with far more attention-to-detail than ever before, encompassing a revolutionary sound as opposed to the modern skip hop aesthetic, to the pleasure of his fan-base, both old and surely many new. If this is the meticulous shape of the Australian Hip Hop movement to come, it most definitely looks good! 9/10