Music

Sea Wolf: Old World Romance

On Sea Wolf's third album, creator Alex Brown Church crafts a series of soft, autumnal songs about finding wisdom by returning home.


Sea Wolf

Old World Romance

Label: Dangerbird
US Release Date: 2012-09-11
UK Release Date: Import
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

New is overrated. Both in the frenetically trend-cycling province of indie rock and the world as a whole, the novel and unfamiliar can often initially appear to be more exciting and challenging than that which seems based in already-explored territory. After a while, however, that buzz band or new trend starts to seem sillier and sillier while familiar themes and questions are repeating themselves and demanding attention. Alex Brown Church, the man behind Sea Wolf, knows that thoughtful depth can be far more rewarding than dilettantish breadth and uses the band’s third album, Old World Romance to illustrate his point.

Sea Wolf started as a bedroom recording project fleshed out with a band in the studio, and its first two albums were full of songs that felt like fleshed-out solo acoustic numbers. However, on Old World Romance, Church takes full advantage of his backing band and the time production possibilities of his home studio, crafting a set of songs that rely on atmosphere and instrumentation just as much as songwriting. The sound of the record is rooted firmly in northwestern indie-pop of the mid-‘00s, calling to mind Nada Surf’s Chris Walla-produced albums, early Rogue Wave and Plans-era Death Cab For Cutie.

Although Sea Wolf is based in LA, Church grew up in Berkley and the small mountain town of Columbia, California, which helps explain the music’s sound because Old World Romance has a distinctly autumnal vibe that the City of Angels just can’t provide. The album’s songs center around the ideas of returning home and coming to grips with accepting one’s life on its own terms. Like many of his generation who were just spit out by their tumultuous twenties, Church wanders around his old haunts, staying out late, looking at the oceans, meeting friends from his past and otherwise trying to ground himself in time and space.

Church starts off trying to find himself by catching up with people from his past and taking stock of where he is. Returning home isn’t a nostalgia trip or D.I.Y. high school reunion, it’s a chance to try to figure out who he is through the lens of the places and people who knew him long ago. He looks for clues to himself with an old lover in “Priscilla” where he notes, “I know that endings / Are the best place to begin” and tries to “see what this love is for”. He continues the same quest “Kasper”, admitting “I’m an old man / Who can sometimes feel like a kid”. Not for nothing is the album’s lead song and single called “Old Friend”. The first half of the record is marked by a sense of drifting about trying to use props to spur an internal realization of purpose.

On the second half of the record, Church starts putting the pieces together and realizing that his search for meaning and direction have been more about quest than the destination. “Come back to yourself / Because there’s nowhere else to go” he pleads on “St. Catherine’s Street”, rejecting the wandering and search for external answers of his past for homecoming and self-reflection. He even admits as much in “Changing Seasons” where he talks about using changes in weather and scenery as a way to escape a past nipping at his heels. By the next song he’s begging for a “Miracle Cure” to help him finally make amends for his (unspecified) previous failings. But there are no great revelations or life-altering epiphanies to be had here, just a slow, quiet acceptance of himself, his age, and his place in life. The soft familiarity of the music echoes this theme providing comfort and stability - a musical home to match his physical one.

The downside of this is that the songs on Old World Romance do start to sound a bit same-y, as the procession of mid-tempo songs featuring syncopated drumming, dry acoustic guitars, and swelling strings or tasteful keys starts to blend together after a while. However, Brown manages to work creatively within a limited color set rather than becoming monochromatic, which saves the album from tedium. “Dear Fellow Traveler”, with its down-key folk guitar harkens back to early Sea Wolf when Iron & Wine comparisons were flying fast and furious. “Blue Stockings” is centered around a simple guitar-picked melody and gives us as close to a ballad or tempo change as this record has to offer.

But this sameness is part of the experience of the album. This isn’t meant to be a record to set the world on fire, it’s a record meant to capture specific set of places and feelings, which it does wonderfully. Time moves on, people change and every moment summer gets imperceptibly farther away and winter gets that much closer. Old World Romance ultimately reveals itself to be a song cycle, with the end leading right back into the beginning. “Saw something in the shadows / Pulled me in to the shallows” Church repeats on the closer, “Whirlpool”, at times exchanging “shadows” with “shallows and vice versa, pulling the listener back into the same path they’ve just left. For Sea Wolf, it’s not novelty that leads to wisdom but trying to understand the familiar, and in this case, they’re onto something.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Film

Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"

Books

'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.

Music

Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.

Reviews

DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.

Film

On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.

Music

Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.

Music

Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.

Music

100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.

Television

What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.

Interviews

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi Remake "I Am the Antichrist to You" (premiere + interview)

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi team up for a gorgeous live performance of "I Am the Antichrist to You", which has been given an orchestral renovation.

Playlists

Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.