White Water, White Bloom, Sea Wolf’s sophomore release hits the shelves tomorrow. Just a handful reviews are out, but the usual “sounds-like” name dropping has alrady begun: Arcade Fire, Conor Oberst, Decembrists, Wilco, blah, blah, blah. I don’t like to label one artist as sounding like another. All I can say is that given that Sea Wolf’s album was produced by Mike Mogus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s got more of a mainstream indie folk-rock sound. So without any external comparisons, here are my thoughts, interspersed with some reflections by Mr. Sea Wolf himself, Alex Brown Church, on this noteworthy new release.
Sophomore albums are tough. When asked about the progression of sound Church explains, ” I couldn’t have known beforehand what the next record would sound like, but I did know I wanted it to be bigger, with a band feel, rather than another series of intimate confessionals.”
Much of this release is much more dense and anthematic with marching drums, guitars and punctuated piano. Mogis gets a thumbs up for mixing Church’s vocals much more front and center than on earlier Sea Wolf releases. Church sounds stronger and more confidant on this second release. At several points, I could have sworn I heard the spit spraying from his angry lips in Oh Maria. No matter, there’s plenty of the tender Sea Wolf that I enjoyed so much from years past.
Some may argue that this CD doesn’t stand out from the others in the indie-folk pack. My advice would be to give Church’s lyrics some careful scrutiny, and then draw your own conclusions. His gift of storytelling, skill with simile and alliteration, and penchant for cinematic details it what sets Sea Wolf apart.
“Lyrically, ” says Church, “I like to incorporate what one would construe as classic imagery, and even infuse the songs with elements of mythology, but also delve into more contemporary themes. I’m interested in the way words look and feel, not just when you hear them, but also when you read them.”
The Color Awesome took all the lyrics for White Water White Bloom and fed them through wordel, a visual word frequency analyzer, and this is what popped out.
“Winter’s Heir” is a great example of what Church means when he talk about how words feel and also how they look. If you hadn’t read the lyric, when you hear Church singing the refrain, you might think it was, ” Your amber eyes and raven hair/in the light of winter’s air.” However this is a song all about change. Change in attitude, change in season, and the phrase “Winter’s Heir” reflect the change, growth, and feeling of newness associated with the dawn of spring.
“When I write a song,” says Church, “For me it’s always associated with a specific place and time. ‘Winter’s Heir is about coming out of the long Montreal winter and experiencing a sense of rebirth.”
This album is primarily set in the cold of the East. This setting is quite different from autumn in the California Sierra mountains that Church wrote about on his previous release. This is no accident – there’s a backstory to the new insperation. “I met and fell in love with a girl in Montreal.” recalls Church. “While touring behind the last Sea Wolf record, I spent most of my time off in Montreal with her. Apart from ‘Wicked Blood‘ and ‘O Maria’, which I wrote in Los Angeles, everything on White Water was written in Montreal, holed up in our little apartment, a block away from the river. That was all of last fall, winter and spring, so I was very much influenced by that experience, and a lot of the record is set there in my immediate surroundings. Just the feeling of a new city can inspire new ideas, new places to explore in your music.”
There is much that’s new and fresh on White Water, but there’s plenty for fans of the previous quieter, introspective Sea Wolf as well. ‘The Orchard’ is reminiscent in mood and sound to ‘Neutral Ground’. This song is oh so tender and intimate, taking place outside in a quiet place near the river. If there is one thing both albums have in common, it is that most of the songs are set outdoors, near water, with wide-open skies, and someone you love and who loves you close by your side.
White Water White Bloom is available to purchase via Dangerbird records.
Sea Wolf is currently on tour promoting their new album.