May Add of the Month: BEAUTIFUL SEIZURE by volcano!

text by digital-media

23 May, 2024

For May’s Add of the month, KCSB’s External Music Director, Bella Genolio, highlights a retroactive add, the album Beautiful Seizure by volcano!

Words by: Bella Genolio; Photos courtesy:

Every week the Music Department here at KCSB (Marion, Ryan, and I) have a show on air called Dispatches from the Library where we pick albums from KCSB’s physical music library to play on the radio. The goal of this show is to encourage our programmers to use the library by demonstrating the vastness and variability of the music we have at the station. We have a ton of fun finding new albums to share with each other, the library is an insanely cool resource that most programmers don’t take advantage of. I think that Marion and Ryan can attest that we all have found so much new music perusing various shelves at random. Beautiful Seizure by volcano! is one of those albums – I picked it up because the review some one left read, “Danger! Danger!” and the cover looked cool. I ended up listening to the album a couple days in a row, the disjointed melodies were so captivating. KCSB has such a rich music history buried in the albums and their reviews and I want every music nerd involved in the station to get a chance to explore what I have had the pleasure of discovering.

Chicago-based volcano! was created in the summer of 2003 by Mark Cartwright (bass, synths), Sam Scranton (drums), and Aaron With (guitar, vocals). Three years later, Beautiful Seizure came out and was their first of three full length albums, their most recent release being in 2012. Most of the information about this band can be found rifling through their Facebook and Youtube – though there are only a handful of posts and the majority of them are from 2013. On Youtube they have a series of videos called “Seed to Flower Thursdays,” that are low quality home-videos of the band members doing short skits about the context of various songs (or how the “seed” became a “flower”) on their 2012 album, Piñ​ata. It’s a very sweet look into the lives of the band members and their community of friends, they seem to be just a group of guys who like hanging out and making music together.

The Leaf label is where Beautiful Seizure and all of volcano!’s works were released. UK based and primarily electronic, one might wonder how a Chicago experimental rock group found their way onto this label. An excerpt from the Leaf label’s Beautiful Seizure review reveals that “for the first time in their history, they’ve[Leaf Label] found a rock band fit for inclusion.” Despite being a rock band, volcano! uses a lot of electronic and experimental elements and are able to fit in on a majority electronic lineup. Beautiful Seizure is a chaotic, genre-clashing, whiplash-inducing collection of songs that buries its intricacies and orchestrated complexities in its haphazard noise.

Fire Fire, the third track on Beautiful Seizure, starts off with slow guitar musings and sparse cymbal hits. Soon the two instruments build into a noisy distorted melody, pulling back only when the vocals come in, slurring “Fire fire,” along with the melody. The instrumentals kick back in, disjointed and chaotic, building as the vocalist comes back in matching the mania of the sound. At this point the drums drive the vocalist’s chanting of sensual lyrics until he breaks out into a Tom Yorke-esque wail. There’s a couple really cool guitar breakdowns held together by a walking bassline that are only interrupted by periods of whispering vocals, ticking percussion, and screeching electronic noise. It’s a very dynamic song, moving through sorrow, lust, and rage. These phases of the song are mainly expressed by the instrumentals; the lyrics seem to be morphed to fit in with the overall sound. 

Larchmontt’s Arrival sounds like it was made by aliens. It’s a little over a minute long and is the second of three interludes on the album, the other two being Kalamazoo and Before the Suburbs. All of these short tracks fit together and speak to one another; the moods are all different but they all seem to describe the different atmospheres of the album. The entirety of Larchmontt’s Arrival is a bubbling, granular tape loop broken up by sharp, reverberating 8-bit cymbal hits. The fractured nature of this track points to a sonic manipulation employed in the electroacoustic genre. Though short and sparse, the song sticks to its name, portraying the arrival of some awful extra-terrestrial being. Kalamazoo is quite different from Larchmontt’s Arrival, it’s a minimal guitar piece accompanied by bells and whistling wind, a very whimsical and natural sounding interlude. A sort of cross between the two other interludes, Before the Suburbs uses a similar sounding tape manipulation to Larchmontt’s Arrival, though is much more subdued, sounding like a creek on a quiet summer night. 

 Beginning with an explosion of electronic noise and moans held together by precise drumming, Red and White Bells is a 9-minute epic of a song. The vocalist cries out in desperation as the guitar loops an anxiety-inducing bar, singing of an artist whose only escape from the world’s disapproval is their chronic seizures. The vocalist is almost an actor on this track, dipping in and out of mania: paranoid and aggressive then gently somber then babbling into insanity. The song crawls toward its slower back half stripping to a minimal melody until its eventual accompaniment by ringing tones and occasional bursts of guitar noise or electronic whirring heard at the start of the track. The whirring and noise continue to build, the spontaneous outbursts become more frequent, until they build to a wall of noise. Though it starts and ends with noise from the same instruments, the sound is completely different. On this track we witness a full arc of pain and isolation, the ending as loud and distorted as the beginning with an audible change – for better or worse.

 Though this review describes individual songs, Beautiful Seizure is an album that deserves to be listened to all the way through. It truly is a continuous piece, the songs flow into one another, connecting fragmented sounds and ideas and referring back to sonic motifs. Overall the album is haywire, noisy, and disordered, but as you listen you can hear that underneath the chaos and noise are impressively structured improvisations. 

As a Music Director, it’s such a cool experience listening to albums added to the KCSB music library by past Music Directors. There is such a dense amount of music in the library and the albums are sorted alphabetically by genre, so within any given section there is a vast range of music tastes and reviews. When this album came out, programmers would pick out CDs from the library to play on their shows, relying on focus tracks and reviews for suggestions. Nowadays, many of our djs use streaming services, I’m no exception, but I’m very grateful that KCSB preserves and maintains this collection of music. My hope is that this review of a 2006 add will convince some of you to check out the music library, tune into Dispatches from the Library, or come to music or library committee meetings where we review music to be put into the library.

Posted in Blog, Add of the month