There is no lack of atmospheric indie-rock floating around that’s being touted on blogs these days. This could be the result of a shift in the listening preferences of hipsters, or it could be that atmospheric indie-rock has benefited from the competition and now, only the strong survive. We can thank acts like Arcade Fire and Iron & Wine for being the harbingers of atmospheric rock, but things don’t stop there.
Much like Iron & Wine, Sea Wolf is the moniker for a lone singer/songwriter and whatever sort of back-up band he sees fit. In this case it’s Alex Church, a California native who was once in indie rockers Irving. What he’s created on White Water, White Bloom is a record that doesn’t lack atmosphere in the slightest. In fact, White Water, White Bloom is brimming with an indelible sense of atmosphere.
The fifth track, “O, Maria!” is a perfect example of said atmosphere. What could easily have been a chunky little indie rock ditty is transformed into a beautiful plea for sanity at the behest of a beautiful woman. While so many bands would have turned the infectious beat of “O, Maria!” into a dance-rock standard, Sea Wolf turns Stones-esque hooks into something that scratches at your subconscious. It is what passes for the blues in indie-rock these days, and Church pulls off the blues with marvelous transparency.
Utilizing a number of subtle instruments and players, “O, Maria!” blends into the title track with remarkable ease. What was once punchy becomes a swirling, lyrically-rich timeless melody. White Water, White Bloom isn’t atmospheric just because it wants to be. The album owes its sound to an innate desire to grow. Throughout the acoustic bridge of the title track, one can’t help but picture a lonely protagonist aimlessly wandering in an attempt to find himself. Therein lies the paradox. White Water, White Bloom hardly moves without an aim. The aim here is to draw the listener into a majestic world of rich sound and dense layers.
Named after a Jack London novel, Sea Wolf clearly draws on dark motifs. The opener, “Wicked Blood”, complete with strings and piano, bears an immediate resemblance to British sad-guy rock, before the strings grab the listener by the ears and “Wicked Blood” gets a little less dark and a little more hopeful, a la Arcade Fire. Is that a bold and overdone comparison? Maybe, but it’s terribly warranted. A Sea Wolf track will soon appear on the soundtrack to a major motion picture, Twilight: New Moon. But on White Water, White Bloom, Sea Wolf scores an epic film themselves.
“Dew in the Grass” maintains this vibe, with a distinctly Maritime up-and-down feel. The verses crash into a haunting chorus. One of the few guitar solos on the record is featured on “Dew in the Grass.” It’s worth mentioning, as it calms the song, oddly enough, and ensures that the above-mentioned up-and-down feel is engulfed instead of heard from afar. This solo speaks for White Water, White Bloom in more ways than one. Most importantly, this solo demonstrates that Sea Wolf cannot be listened to half-assed.
Church’s vocals never shine on White Water, White Bloom. But the record is a complete package, and one can’t help but wonder if Church hesitated on his vocals because doing the opposite might have overshadowed the voice of the album’s helpless protagonist.White Water, White Bloom is personal, and sways just as the many moods of so many humans do. Blaming this record for its up-and-down persona is as pointless as blaming yourself for getting angry at whatever gets you angry. If you’re up for stepping into an alternate, folk-rock inspired universe, Sea Wolf is deserving of an ear. White Water, White Bloom is an amazing step for Sea Wolf, ranking near if not at the top of Alex Church’s musical accomplishments.
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// Notes from the Road
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