Monthly Archives: January 2010

WHITE WATER, WHITE BLOOM by sea wolf

by Gordon

Pitchfork: 5.0           Rolling Stone: N/A           Metacritic: 67           Spin: N/A

 

Released: September 2009
Tracklisting:
  1. Wicked Blood
  2. Dew in the Grass
  3. Orion & Dog
  4. Turn the Dirt Over [LISTEN]

  5. O Maria!
  6. White Water, White Bloom
  7. Spirit Horse
  8. The Orchard
  9. The Traitor
  10. Winter’s Heir

   It’s not that Sea Wolf’s sophomore release, White Water, White Bloom, is a bad album. On the contrary, it’s a really good album…not one song unlistenable or entirely unenjoyable. It’s just that, well, Leaves in the River, his first, was so damn good, and one can’t help but hope his next one would be at least as good, or at least contain another “You’re A Wolf” (admittedly, a tall order). Unfortunately, this album achieves neither.

   I saw Sea Wolf perform with Nada Surf back when he was promoting his first album. I was there to see Nada Surf, just happy that the opener was someone I’d heard of (and who I’d actually heard a great song from on the radio…the aforementioned “You’re A Wolf”). His performance, aided by a handful of musicians (a cellist and accordionist of which my friends and I spent considerable time debating the hotness of), instantly won me over, and i soaked up the album, which was every bit as energetic and impressive as the concert. While Alex Brown Church (the man behind the title)  may deem the newer album a step in a new direction (always a respectful approach), something sounds like it’s been lost in the new tunes, and the void doesn’t strike me as being filled by any kind of new sound, leaving the finished result something of a muted version of its predecessor.

   The shining hope for the new album is its opening track, “Wicked Blood” (video below), which comes surprisngly close to accomplishing the same musical quality (not to be confused with sound) as “You’re A Wolf”. The track is slightly more upbeat, but maintains a similar tone and attitude from Church, as well as a similarly effective combination of guitar and string (this time with more piano). As the first single, it was the first glimpse I was given of the band’s long-awaited efforts, and it proved successful in encouraging my hopes. Upon my first listen of the album, it also proved to be the only song of its kind, nothing else matching either its intensity or catchiness.

   Not that Sea Wolf can’t pull off amazing songs of a more quiet nature, his voice still maintaining a softly-sung badass-ness equally found in the louder ones. And the soft ones usually build into more rocking, percussion-heavy pieces anyway, as is the case with the second track, “Dew in the Grass”, sticking to a successful formula that Church has no doubt taken note of. Track #3, however, “Orion & Dog”, stays quiet and peaceful throughout, a stirring string banter adding much to the acoustic guitar-driven melody.

   Of the slower songs, I find the next track, “Turn the Dirt Over”, the most mesmerizing, melancholy in its delivery, boasting an impressively choreographed mixture of guitar, piano, strings and flute (or some similar woodwind instrument). Church tries breaking things up with “O Maria!”, which ventures to be something of what “Black Dirt” was for his previous album, a staccato-like guitar/piano jam with a particularly aggressive chorus, only I like “Black Dirt” at least ten times more.

   Title track “White Water, White Bloom” is a fine track, at times exhibiting the qualities you grew to like Sea Wolf for in the first place, though the guitar riffs and vocal melodies feel a bit too generic for the singer (a flaw of the album as a whole I’d argue), who won many of us over for penning catchy tunes that lacked the generic quality that dulls mainstream hits and forgoes acceptance from the Indie crowd.

   The next two, “Spirit Horse” and “The Orchard”, are nice light tunes, still suffering from the same disease I attributed to the album’s earlier softies. Track #9, “The Traitor”, feels like a dumbed-down version of the similarly paced and upbeat “Wicked Blood” (not a bad comparison, unless it’s made between two songs on the same album). Closing in the “goodnight lullabye” fashion (though not severely), the ender, “Winter’s Heir”, is a hushed, guitar-strung ballad, other than the post-chorus instrumental which opens into a twangy electric guitar riff.

   I don’t like to be hard on Sea Wolf. My lackluster synopsis stems from the necessary pain that comes from dashed hopes unintentionally enacted by an artist whose follow-up I had every hope in the world of bringing added recognition to his name by building off of a a great first effort to become even more of a surprise success. Though still early in his career, all I can do now is wait for album #3, which could well become the most important piece in terms of either dismissing or solidly establishing Sea Wolf.

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CONTRA by vampire weekend

by Sean

Pitchfork: 8.6            Rolling Stone: 4/5            Metacritic: 80            Spin: 4/5

 

Released: January 2010
Tracklisting:
  1. Horchata [LISTEN]

  2. White Sky
  3. Holiday
  4. California English
  5. Taxi Cab
  6. Run
  7. Cousins
  8. Giving Up The Gun
  9. Diplomat’s Son
  10. I Think Ur A Contra

   Vampire Weekend is back with their sophomore release, Contra. By now I think everybody has heard of these “afro-pop”-playing Columbia University grads, for better or for worse. Understandably, there are many that are either sick of hearing about Vampire Weekend, or are just not buying into them. As for Contra, it’s pretty simple. If you liked their debut, you’ll like this. If you think Vampire Weekend are spoiled and talentless, and don’t deserve the praise they’ve been given, well then, I’m not sure why you’re even reading this.

   I was a fan of Vampire Weekend’s debut, although I, like others, grew rather weary of it after awhile. But I had to hand it to them, even if they were borrowing from other genres and artists, this didn’t exactly sound like anything else out today, and it was pretty good. Although I would’ve bet that their next record would be a huge letdown compared to the first, after several listens I’ve gotta say that Contra is equal to, if not better than the self-titled debut. The only problem is, now that we’ve heard Vampire Weekend, we’re not getting the feeling of hearing something different or brand new, and I think this will eventually hurt them.

   Contra opens with “Horchata”, and the lines “In December drinking Horchata/ I’d look psychotic in a Balaclava/ Winter’s cold is too much to handle”. My first thoughts were, “Oh this song sounds perfect for the city winter I’m currently in the middle of”, and “What the hell is Horchata, or a Balaclava”. Thankfully wikipedia helped me decipher Ezra Koenig’s complicated lyrics, but I was not surprised by them, as these type of terms have become typical of Vampire Weekend. “Horchata” builds to a climax of strings and tribal-like drumming, reminiscent of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown”. The Kanye/Vampire Weekend comparisons don’t stop there, but this may be a good thing.

   Auto-tune. I fucking hate auto-tune. As if I didn’t hate most of popular hip hop already, rappers decide to sing over auto-tune, and even ruin what could be decent R&B singers’ voices with this “technology”. Well, Vampire Weekend decide it would be a good idea to make an entire song with auto-tune, “California English”, and you know what, it’s actually not that bad. I wouldn’t call it one of the best songs on the album, but it isn’t the worst either.

   “Cousins” picks up where “A-Punk” left off as the upbeat surf-rock song of Contra. This would be a sure-fire highlight if it wasn’t for the annoyingly idiotic chorus, “Me and my cousins and you and your cousins/ It’s a line thats always running/ Me and my cousins and you and your cousins/ I can feel it coming”. “Cousins” is preceded by “Run”, one of my favorite tracks. Heavy on the synths, which turns out to be maybe the only theme of Contra that differs greatly from the self-titled, “Run” builds up to a strong chorus, and what may even be called a synth jam, which I would compare to some of Beirut’s recent work as Realpeople.

   Contra finishes strong with “Giving Up the Gun”, “Diplomat’s Son”, and “I Think Ur a Contra”. The first of the three-song-run, “Giving Up the Gun”, actually sounds unlike Vampire Weekend’s previous work, and works perfectly in this slot. The self-titled’s closer, “The Kid’s Don’t Stand a Chance” ended up being one of the best from that album. “Diplomat’s Son” and “I think Ur a Contra” don’t quite match it, but they come close, and were definitely solid choices to close Contra.

   Vampire Weekend seems to attract much critical acclaim, while also accumulating a large amount of hate. I would put myself in the middle. They may not deserve the heaps of praise they’ve gotten from the Pitchforks and Rollingstones of the world, but they certainly don’t deserve all of the shit they’ve taken either. If you are one of those haters, at least look past their physical appearance and scholarly history and give the music a chance on its own.

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