All very tasteful, but where are the tunes?
Jon Lusk 2008
Californian singer/songwriter Alex Brown Church took his stage name Sea Wolf from a novel by Jack (The Call of The Wild) London. This slight indie-folk offering is his first full-length album, recorded with the handful of musicians he's been touring with. It may well be his last, but who am I to say?
Without much in the way of a distinctive vocal presence from Church, whose words rarely stray beyond post-modern moon-in-June clichés, it's the arrangements that make the strongest impression – generally sparse, with delicate keyboards, atmospheric percussion, subtle programming, cello etc.
All very tasteful, but where are the tunes? He’s been compared to Bright Eyes and Elliot Smith, but there are plenty of older echoes here, with both Black Dirt and The Cold, The Dark & The Silence suggesting he's a fan of The Cure, while the closing, near-anthemic Neutral Ground sounds like a lost leaf from the Lightning Seeds songbook. And yes, as the press release points
out, Black Dirt does appear to borrow from Fun Boy Three's Tunnel Of Love.
Anyway, it's Church's lyrics that really let him down. In the right hands (say, Laura Veirs, or Fleet Foxes) nature imagery can be a thing of great wonder. But are these the right hands? Rivers, Gypsies and leaves seem to be his three favourite items. Why? Well, why not? OK. But, please: ''Light from a source unseen reflected/By the moon on the rocks collected/Near out bodies unexpected.'' Can you see why not? Or how about: “You'll move like a tiger/Into the thicket/Claws in the dirt/You'll sing like a cricket.'' No? Well, what about: ''I saw you outside the bathroom stalls/You were just standing there out in the hall/You leaned your hip against the wall/I'd love you anywhere but Black Leaf Falls.'' Hmmm.
Seriously, Church should be up there with Des'ree – chiefly famous for rhyming 'ghost' with 'most' and 'toast' – in the 'crap lyrics awards'. It's on this point the album does fall. Your interest will probably pall. I’m certain that nothing at all. Can save this from second hand stalls.