Sea Wolf: White Water, White Bloom

RIYL: Iron & Wine, Conor Oberst, Jeremy Fisher

Sea Wolf, a band of Alex Church plus friends-as-needed, has returned with the sophomore album White Water, White Bloom, expanding their folk-infused, intimate indie rock into a larger, more orchestral sound that is both richly textured and a touch disappointing. Whereas the original Leaves in the River carried a dark, chanting, old world feel throughout, White Water… layers in several more musicians and instruments, and Mike Mogis’ production punches everything up to a lush and sweeping cascade of sound. One side effect of this is that Church’s vocals, still slightly warbling and dry, sometimes emphasize his limited range, rather than capturing the quiet intimacy that is his strength. The title track is the best example, where pianos, multiple strings, drums and synths all vie for attention, becoming heavy and ponderous with the vocals dragged down by the weight of it all. Or, as on the opening track “Wicked Blood,” where the pop elements overwhelm and it can occasionally sound like a cover of a Roy Orbison track circa Mystery Girl. Lyrically, it seems that Church tried to keep pace with this expansion and this resulted in a rambling feel on some of the longer songs. His writing is missing the concise, insistent quality that made Leaves… tracks like “You’re A Wolf” and “The Cold, The Dark & The Silence” so powerful.

This could be considered quibbling, as the album has its share of gems. Middle tracks “Orion & Dog” and “Turn the Dirt Over” have all the power and simmering energy to make you listen intently and repeatedly. Here you feel that the music serves the song and story as folk demands, rather than the other way around. When “Oh Maria!” really rocks out, it is not just the pounding drums and angular guitars that drive it, but the passionate personal quality of lyric and vocal delivery. It is unfortunate that this beautiful strength gets lost in the complexity of the larger, denser tracks that are pretty, but inevitably fall a bit flat. Church and company made a clear bid for “more” on White Water, White Bloom, and definitely succeeded. But the uneven results show that more isn’t always a good thing. (Dangerbird 2009)

Sea Wolf Myspace page
Click to buy White Water, White Bloom from Amazon