Category Archives: sea wolf

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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top ten albums of 2009

by Gordon
10. LIVING THING by peter bjorn and john

 

I Want You! [LISTEN]

So much more excited waiting for a follow-up to Writer’s Block than I was upon finally hearing it, but you know, there’s still hope. It doesn’t suck, but I wish they’d released the two albums in reverse order.

9. DEAD MAN’S BONES by dead man’s bones

My Body’s A Zombie for You [LISTEN]

This is a band/album few have even heard of, but this Halloween-inspired record from Ryan Gosling and friend Zach Shields, recorded with a children’s choir, is a bold and fresh first creative effort from the two, who describe their influences as Disney haunted mansion, doo wop and 60s girl groups…who can knock that?

8. NOBLE BEAST by andrew bird

Fitz And the Dizzyspells [LISTEN]

As a more recent Andrew Bird fan, I fell in love with Armchair Apocrypha and subsequently his earlier albums. While this one didn’t hit me like his previous, it’s still got Bird all over it, and that’s not bad at all.

7. DRAW THE LINE by david gray

Fugitive [LISTEN]

For a hardcore Gray fan, It may not boast his best tracklisting to date, but it’s not too far off. His songwriting and piano-guitar combinations are still strong on this one.

6. WHITE WATER, WHITE BLOOM by sea wolf

Wicked Blood [LISTEN]

I was a little disappointed with what I see as a step back on this sophomore effort, but seeing as Sea Wolf is still a fairly new band that should be experienced by more listeners, it deserves a nod.

5. VECKATIMEST by grizzly bear

While You Wait for the Others [LISTEN]

Their second full-length album isn’t really a venture into anything new, but sounds close to what you’d expect from the increasingly popular group: bolder, louder and, dare I say happier?

4. FAR by regina spektor

The Calculation [LISTEN]

She’s back with the same great kinds of songs that have grown her popularity to where it is now: sad lullabies, poppy anthems, and everything in-between.

3. WOLFGANG AMADEUS PHOENIX by phoenix

1901 [LISTEN]

Yes, there are arguably more talented musicians lower on this list than Phoenix, but damn it, if I don’t just love listening to some of this band’s songs more.

2. I AND LOVE AND YOU by the avett brothers

Laundry Room [LISTEN]

While longtime fans may not call it the brothers’ best album to date, it’s pretty undisputedly a great one, offering some of the best tunes I’ve heard come from the band.

1. RESERVOIR by fanfarlo

Harold T. Wilkins, or How to Wait for A Very Long Time [LISTEN]

How could such a new (and largely unheard of) band produce the best album of 2009? I don’t know, but they did, and it’s because they’re so new and unheard of that they deserve the top spot.

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LEAVES IN THE RIVER by sea wolf

by Gordon

seawolf.leavesintheriver

Pitchfork: 5.2          Rolling Stone: N/A          Metacritic: N/A          Spin: N/A

 

Released: September 2007
Tracklisting:
  1. Leaves In the River
  2. Winter Windows
  3. Black Dirt [LISTEN]

  4. The Rose Captain
  5. Middle Distance Runner
  6. You’re A Wolf
  7. Song For The Dead
  8. Black Leaf Falls
  9. The Cold, The Dark And The Silence
  10. Neutral Ground

   It was late Winter. I was leaving the architecture building at the University of MD on a cold, dark night. It was late and I was very tired. I got in my car for the routine five-minute drive back home. I turned on the radio, picked up some Indie local channel. Thank God. This song was half-through. I was hearing this great rhythm on acoustic guitar…good chords. And a young, confident male voice. Then this catchy electric guitar lick…and strings! The strings got more ferocius towards the end as the singer is now singing “You’re a wolf, boy, get out of this town.” The song was “You’re A Wolf”, and it’s rare that I hear such great new songs…especially on the radio.

   What followed was a determination to find out who was responsible for the song and whether by some chance it wasn’t the only decent thing they’d recorded and released. Turns out the band was Sea Wolf (I was sensing a theme), and although a band, was really just a moniker used by Alex Brown Church, the creative force behind the sound. I quickly downloaded the album, and was joyous over an album that start to finish proved to be a more than enjoyable listen.

   The album starts with the dreamlike, beautifully simple “Leaves in the River”, growing from acoustic guitar to light percussion, to simple piano, keyboard and electric guitar fills, a pleasant background to a vivid boy-and-girl narrative recount. The next song to leave an impression for me was “Black Dirt”, again starting with simple acoustic chords and promising vocals (“Black dirt will stain your feet and when you walk you’ll leave black dirt in the street.”). That’s when strings, percussion and electric guitar come crashing in for the remainder of the song, building up towards the end with a fervor and attitude reminiscent of the great Arcade Fire.

   “The Rose Captain” andMiddle Distance Runner” act as pleasantly-paced, melodically impressive in-betweens until you get to the arguable star of the show, “You’re A Wolf”. A later standout is second-to-last track “The Cold, The Dark & The Silence”, a faster-paced, guitar-heavy piece, intensifying further with commanding vocals and strings. The last track, “Neutral Ground”, comes at you in the same vein as that of the opening track…a light, melancholy goodbye to match that of its hello.

   Many of the songs from Leaves in the River seem to stick to the same formula…a certain pace, guitar rhythm, vocal style or string accompaniment…but never does one song sound similar to another. The formula works. And after the ten songs are over, you want more of it. With the recent release of second album White Water, White Bloom, and a hopeful, anxious listen to the first track through, it’s safe to say there’s more to look forward to.

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