Sunday, November 25, 2007

sea wolf

sea wolf is the solo project of alex brown church, a songwriter from los angeles and member of indie pop outfit irving. unsuited as some of his songs were for that band, church lit out on his own and started sea wolf as a creative outlet, a side project that has outstripped irving in acclaim and popularity. church is conscious of the overabundance of "wolf" bands, and offers a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer on his myspace: We want to be JUST LIKE: Wolf Eyes, Wolf Parade, We Are Wolves, AIDS Wolf, Wolfie, Wolf Colonel, Patrick Wolf, WolfMother, Guitar Wolf, Steppenwolf, Hugo Wolf, Kate Wolf, Laurent Wolf, Wolf City, Duran Duran (though they don't really count. they were just 'hungry like a wolf'), Howlin' Wolf, Superwolf, White Wolf, Seasons of the Wolf, Wolf & Cub, Peanut Butter Wolf, Peter Wolf, Peter and the Wolf, Los Lobos, Fuckwolf, The Wolfgang Press, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Wolfstone, The Wolfnote, Wolves in the Throneroom, Le Loup... sea wolf is signed to dangerbird records, an appropriate home for his catchy post-pop, and released leaves in the river two months ago today.

sea wolf gives me a hard time. the music is accessible and enjoyable, with hooks that stick in your head for hours and hours, but there's one thing about leaves in the river that troubles me: half the songs are really good, and half the songs are totally boring, which is kinda a big deal on an album with just nine songs. the disparity between the good songs ("you're a wolf," "don't you love me anymore," "black dirt," and "black leaf falls") and the bad songs (everything else, except "leaves in the river," which is somewhere in between) is so striking that it's confusing. how is it possible that the split is so severe? i can't explain it.

sea wolf's sound is comfortable - a listener-friendly blend of post-rock and will oldham-esque songwriting, with church's solo guitar buttressed by expansive guitars and a particularly pronounced cello. considering the success dangerbird has had with putting other signees silversun pickups on big lineups and mainstream radio, sea wolf seems destined for top 40 success, with church's inoffensive mellow pop already ranking high on billboard. one of the better good songs is "don't you love me anymore," a melancholic anthem church delivers with his characteristically flat inflection to music that is almost hip hop-like in its regularity. "black dirt" is the album's clear winner, however, a song that builds with a strong chorus and pregnant pauses. church starts out solo but is joined by elbowy guitars after a verse, propelling the song forward, the simple chorus riding over the progressive instrumental crescendo.

sea wolf is less of a band and more of a rotating cast of musicians church draws on for help, and the aid they give to his simple songwriting is immense. it is easy to imagine sea wolf's songs stripped down and played solo, though that thought is not inviting; without the skillful aid of his backing band, sea wolf wouldn't warrant any attention. the four great songs on leaves in the river are great because of the sea wolf members who aren't alex brown church, though that doesn't diminish their innate quality. also, phil ek helped produce the album, and his talents are more than enough to transform plain songs into gems.

sea wolf - "you're a wolf" & "black dirt"
buy leaves in the river from dangerbird records.

1 comment:

robin mcdonnell said...

I think you are wrong about Church being nothing without his backup band. I believe he writes and arranges all the music and his musicians learn the parts from him and, of course, add their own personal style. Church is the writer, arranger and conductor.