Sea Wolf's 'Through a Dark Wood' Is an Honest Portrayal of Emotional Struggle

Photo: Courtesy of Dangerbird Records

Sea Wolf's Through the Dark Wood holds space for psychological transformation. Alex Brown Church's masterful illustrations of vulnerability and adversity affirm grief as a step towards growth.

Through a Dark Wood
Sea Wolf


20 March 2020

Sea Wolf's eagerly anticipated fifth LP, Through a Dark Wood is an unabashedly honest portrayal of emotional struggle. Alex Brown Church, the musician behind Sea Wolf, says the album was conceptualized during a period where "everything was decidedly not okay". He is quick to add that everything is better now, but the period of agony was pivotal. Church began writing the album in 2014 but scrapped it after realizing it was disjointed. More importantly, he failed to convey the pain accurately. Church demarcates a time when he was not faring well yet striving to heal. Through the Dark Woods suggests a journey built on adversity, all the while leading Church towards a more joyous and restorative space.

One of the markers of Sea Wolf's musical style is his ability to craft each song as if it was a unique story. With a background in film, Church's eye for mise-en-scène is evident in his music. "Moving Colors" and "Under the Spell" are cinematic in their construction of a setting with both artfully devising emotion. He frequently emphasizes plots featuring characters moving through arcs, eventually arriving at conclusions. For instance, the juxtaposition of "Blood Pact" and "Break it Down" capture characters amidst a specific point in time. Both narratives allude to robust history the listeners aren't privy to. For Church, the past isn't the focus. Instead, he enshrines the present moment. The hardship is unequivocally prominent, but the dysfunction also leads to catharsis. The resolutions aren't always satisfying, and Church often denies closure simply because reality often denies closure.

But before Church heals, he adroitly uses Through the Dark Woods to document the pain he first experiences. The anxiety in "I Went Up, I Went Down" is palpable. The lyrics exhibit Church nervously moving around his home, checking the mail, putting on the tea kettle, checking his hair in the mirror. This puttering is the physical manifestation of his suffering. He is lost and aimless; the repetition of the refrain, "I didn't want to know", evokes a self-soothing mantra. But the lyrical energy doesn't match the music's spirit; the gentle cadences swirl and calm, a foreshadowing of the peace Church will finally find. Uncoupling the lyrical and musical effect is a tactic he revisits in a "Fear of Failure". Whereas the lyrics project his disquietude, the instrumentation cultivates serenity. Church includes sweeping strings to create a softness accentuating the track's honesty. Here Church reminds himself he has "to be brave / Even though I'm still afraid". The artist's bravery is undeniable, his resilience inspiring.

Literature is central to Sea Wolf's oeuvre. "Frank O'Hara", for example, ponders what the poet and writer would have thought about the legalization of same-sex marriage. O'Hara, a gay man, often depicted queer culture in his work. Repositioning him in the contemporary moment is a definite acknowledgment of the poet's influence. Moreover, Church adopted his musical moniker from Jack London's novel Sea Wolf. A fitting text as both the novel and musician examine the psychological as a method for expanding consciousness. In the case of "Forever, Nevermore" the development of awareness is challenging and often mired by trying to forget the past while being "filled with remorse and regret". When Church's voice ascends to sing "push you away", he magnifies more vulnerability and intimacy than heard on previous projects. Through the Dark Woods is discreet about the messy past, but this is a necessary tool in letting go.

Through the Dark Wood holds space for psychological transformation. Church's masterful illustrations of vulnerability and adversity affirm grief as a step towards growth. It is precisely these moments that garner strength and enables the artist to find power among the anguish. The album is beautiful in its sensitivity. Through a Dark Wood is a stunning portrait of psychological struggle and testifies to Church's abilities as a songwriter to convey raw emotion.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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