Pitchfork: 5.0 Rolling Stone: N/A Metacritic: 67 Spin: N/A
Released: September 2009
Dew in the Grass
Orion & Dog
Turn the Dirt Over [LISTEN]
White Water, White Bloom
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.