It’s strange in a way that Sea Wolf’s Alex Brown Church lives in bright sunny Los Angeles, because I always get the impression he composes music for grey rainy weather. On Wednesday, he and two members of his band (their drummer was in Portland) gave a very special and quiet performance at Sayer’s Club during the Red Bull Sound Select series curated by KCRW.
I first heard of Sea Wolf when they had their semi-hit ‘You’re a Wolf’ off their debut album ‘Leaves in the River’, KCRW was playing it all the time back in 2007. Since that time, I haven’t really followed their career but they have just released their 4th album, ‘Song Spells, No.1: Cedarsmoke’, which Church has described as a project made up of a series of non-studio albums, recorded in between official albums. Funded by a kickstarter campaign, ‘Cedarsmoke’ offers songs stripped down to the minimum and certainly appealing for true fans. The album is actually a true gift for them as it can be downloaded on Bandcamp for free or for a pay-what-you-want-deal.
The Sea Wolf trio played a mix of old and new songs and this acoustic setting was perfectly suited for these new ones, whose quiet music could evoke still wilderness, forests covered by untouched snow or calm lakes,… I mean any kind of similar imagery would match Church’s nostalgic soundscapes, where quiet strumming or agile guitar fingerpicking, discreet percussion, melancholic and never overwhelming keys wrap his emotional vocals. There is certainly something fragile in these intimate folk songs, even when the strumming becomes a bit more nervous, the melodies stay delicate like an immaculate winter morning only habited by Church‘s soothing and almost sentimental vocals. ‘I can’t remember the last time I have been to Hollywood’ he said mid-show, explaining that he lives on the east side.
Most of the music was so quiet that, during the most peaceful ones of the new album such as ‘Bergamot Morning’ and ‘Young Bodies’, you could overhear people talking at the bar, which was a bit disrespectful if you want my opinion. ‘Stop talking’ shouted a girl, making me think I wasn’t the only one disturbed by their incessant chatting. Don’t these people know it is the kind of music that fans want to listen to religiously, sitting cross-legged around an imaginary campfire? Sure not all music is about loudness and energizing beats, and Sea Wolf’s melodies are the type to cheer you up despite the profound melancholia, and even sadness emanating from the songs. People became much quieter when the band suddenly compensated the lack of drums and beats by asking the crowd to clap along, and this turned to be a great rhythm section during ‘Whitewoods’ and ‘Dear Fellow Traveller’, which became much more upbeat than the previous tunes. They closed their set with ‘You’re a Wolf’, probably the most ear worm type of all their songs, skipping one song on the setlist (‘Middle Distance Runner’) may be because Alex Church seemed to have some slight vocal problems.
According to what he said, Los Angelinos will have to wait quite some time before they get another Sea Wolf show, but it’s gonna in a bigger place with the full band when they perform again. Even though this new album brings them closer to their original stripped down sound, there is no real departure, there is a Sea Wolf sound and Alex Church seems to be the most unassuming guy in the business ‘I sing and write songs, but I’m not a singer/songwriter. The trick is taking something that’s essentially the creative output of an individual and making it a group experience,’ he said in the press release for the new album. Each of his albums have been generated under different circumstances – the first one when he was still in the band Irving, the second one when he was in Montreal, and the third one in Los Angeles, after spending some times in Omaha with Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis. On stage he looked like the quietest guy in the room, often tuning his guitar, ‘I have never spent so much time tuning’, he said during the show, looking more solitary wolf than ever.
Turn the Dirt Over
Dew in the Grass
Dear Fellow Traveller
(Middle Distance Runner)
You’re a Wolf
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