Two If By Sea
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Two If By Sea

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The best kept secret in music


"Found in Translations"

No Cover by Ryan Boddy

Found in Translations
With Its Debut Album, Two If By Sea Perfects a Sound it First Picked Up in the (Sniff) Reagan Era

The members of Two if by Sea hold secret band meetings and have forged a binding, lifelong pact. They're not trying to establish their own inner-sanctum cabal, however; this circle of five reminds you more of a boys' club riding bikes around the neighborhood searching for scrap wood to build tree houses. The meetings are usually about finding cheap places to meet and rehearse; the pact a promise among close friends rather than a blood-oath initiation. And three years into this promise Two if by Sea has smelted Translations, the band's Speedbump Records debut, a thickly layered, metric rock endeavor that builds on sounds the quintet remembers from its childhood.

"We made a pact," guitarist and vocalist Chris Cowan says between swigs of beer in the backyard of the Hampden duplex he shares with drummer Chuck Cole. "We all decided to do this until it's done, whatever that means."

His four band mates, sitting around the yard's koi pond, heartily concur. "We've all made a personal promise to do this band properly until it's finished," guitarist David Hardy says. "We practice a lot and have all sacrificed jobs and relationships to do this. We don't want to ride it out like a death march, but until that day comes we all know what's expected, and what we need to give up or postpone in order to make it work."

All five, ranging in age from the mid-20s to early 30s, share this certainty about their musical future, less so about their current day jobs. Cowan is a sous chef at Vespa in Federal Hill, Hardy is a freelance graphic designer, bassist John Jorde works at a branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, keyboardist Yuri Zietz also works in restaurants, and drummer Cole works in graphic design, too.

Despite the commitment to the band, describing the Two if by Sea sound proves elusive for the group. They note comparisons to the recent spate of Factory Records clones--Interpol, the Rapture, Radio 4 --and quickly dismiss them. "Our influences are spread over a broad spectrum," Hardy says. "But apparently they get narrowed down to [the] Factory Records output by a select few. Still, our intention is not to be a revival band of any sort. The fact that we pull influences from the Reagan era is due to our age and actually being around to listen to that stuff. I think five or six years can make a big difference. Kids who are coming of age now can't relate to that time musically in the same way that we do."

The group formed in late 2001, initially without Cowan or Zietz. Cole, Jorde, Hardy, and then-keyboard player Rob Nelson held surreptitious practices late nights at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County TV studio, but they didn't have a vocalist. Cowan entered after answering an ad in City Paper.

"We had over a hundred calls that I could tell right away didn't even warrant a personal meeting," Hardy says. "We were stoked the first practice with Cris."

At first, Cowan only sang. But he quickly added his guitar to the band's mix. "We weren't sure about his vocals at first," Cole says. "But when he showed up the first time I thought, Oh, he's got a van. We wanted someone who sounded like we wanted to at the time, but we've grown into working with Cris."

"He sounds like a hetero Morrissey," Zietz adds.

In October of 2003 Nelson left the band, and Two if by Sea continued as a quartet before enlisting Zietz. "He had been in a band called the Dolly Sods," Hardy says. "We played one show as a four-piece at the Ottobar back in October with the Black Keys, and then Yuri [Zietz] was in. He picked it up quick, too, which allowed us to keep writing without having to revert back too far."

Zietz's arrival also encouraged the band to play out more frequently and hone its live sound, which has earned the group a loyal local following. "There's so much energy in the right crowd," Cowan says. "You can feel it coming right off the floor. You can almost make them dance. The record is called Translations because it's an interpretation of our live sound. The energy is still there, but we've embellished quite a bit. Records are pure, but live is raw."

Translations offers up a combo platter of sounds. While the drum, bass, and keyboards dance on top of 16th-note high-hat beats and tarantella footwork, the layered guitar work and the vocals achieve a sort of serenity in the center of the whirling. Cowan's baritone croons manic stanzas at the forefront of tightly wound accompaniment.

"There's been a lot of goth response," Cowan admits. "But maybe that's just because of my vocal style. I get compared to Peter Murphy a lot. The funny part is that the lyrics are anything but depressing."

The music steers a clear path around the goth theatricality of the Cleopatra Records stable, but black-nail-polish wearers could easily be fooled by the band - Baltimore City Paper

"Comfortably Numb"

“Why must you put on / records that I know all the words to / it’s so easy for you to be comfortable,” sings Cris Cowan on “One Hundred Days,” and I know exactly what he means. It seems so easy for so many people: being comfortable, in their clothes and shoes, their homes and lives, their social circles. Comfort is both the goal and the enemy of Cowan and his Baltimore-based electro-rock band Two If By Sea, just as it was for the band’s immediate (and somewhat obvious) predecessors -- New Order, the Cure, Depeche Mode, Talk Talk. And while those are all records we know all the words too, so is Two If By Sea’s Translations, whether or not you’ve ever heard the band over the course of its two-year existence.
Because Translations is exactly as its title implies. These songs aren’t exactly unoriginal, packed as they are with melodic intensity and the new-wave equivalent of fist-pumping energy (like if the Scorpions had worn black eyeliner and written “Depress Me Like a Hurricane”). But after a few minutes of immersion, the words begin to translate easily: that rumbling hi-hat and electro-triggered snare drum, the stage-light-soaked vocal tics of a hundred gritty northern Englishmen’s angst, the anti-anthems of New Order and, more obscurely but accurately, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. But, like their big-name peers The Rapture, Two If By Sea has youthful vigor rather than Cure-reunion ho-hum, and the kids can’t get enough of danceable angst -- maybe a few old-timers will remember what made keyboards and guitars their teenaged chocolate and peanut butter, too.
- Pittsburgh City Paper



Thursday, February 19

The first 12 seconds of "This Will Hurt Someone," the opener of Baltimore band Two If By Sea's forthcoming debut album Translations, lead into a pounding, disco-infused, rock-steady beat. It immediately touches on the post-punk revival sound best represented by groups like the Rapture and the Faint, but singer Cris Cowan's voice is also deep and dramatic, like Interpol's Paul Banks, who consequently sounds a lot like Ian Curtis, making the new wave/post-punk reference cycle complete. All comparisons aside, TIBS have their own dimensions, creating intense, surging dance rock that bounces and churns with theatrical elements and synth-driven melodies. Regulars on the Baltimore and D.C. circuits, the group is on their first real, in-depth tour in support of the album, to be released this spring on Speedbump Records.

Local group Bleeder also conjures the sound of 1980s new wave and pop-rock bands. Guitarist/vocalist Greg Felmley sings with a unique inflection, sometimes with a quivering emphasis on certain lyrics, sometimes with a soft falsetto and at other times with a deep bellow that carries the melody with a strong resonance. They're currently in the midst of recording a full-length album at Mr. Small's, but tonight marks the release of a four-song EP that serves as an appropriate introduction to a band we're bound to hear a lot from in the near future.


"from skratch magazine"

It is no surprise if right off the bat this reminds
one of another band who plays fierce electronic,
bass-blasting, dance-crazy guitar melodies with
angst-driven punk-rock disregard. The comparisons with
Saddle Creek's own The Faint cannot be denied. Yet,
the '80s new-wave vocals/guitar work that echoes both The Cure and The Smiths (for example, "escalator" and "swords or pistols") gives Two If by Sea a bit of room, separating themselves from the pack of recent electro-clash bands. Unlike The Faint, though, and like many other bands of the same style, TIBS have a hard time keeping the entire album interesting and creative. However, the tight musicianship, well-constructed songs, and catchy hooks make
TRANSLATIONS a very engaging album. For more info, visit
-Norberto Gomez, Jr.



AWESOME throwback to 80s new wave. I normally hate that stuff, but these guys do the New Order thing pretty well, modernizing it with some toe-tapping dance punk. Very nice mix of electro drums, deep low vocals, and crisp guitar. Check out the disco-y "Contract"


"7/23/04 review"

Shade and Sea come up for air at Roustabout!

By Tim Wright
Collegian Staff Writer

In what will be the two headlining bands' first appearances in the State College area, the Darkhorse Tavern, 128 E. College Ave., will offer new entries in the continuing music showcase Roustabout! tomorrow night.

The bands, Pittsburgh-based Shade and Baltimore-based Two if by Sea, are often found playing the same bill on tour because of their similar musical sounds.

Hardy said the group has recently been lumped in with some of the more popular throwback bands of the moment, and that really is not accurate.

"We've been compared to a lot of stuff that we're not necessary influenced by, such as the more recent throwback bands," Hardy said.

"When we first started playing, that stuff wasn't really out yet, so we couldn't have really been inspired by it.

"We're more inspired by older music, such as late '80s stuff like U2 and New Order."

It seems as though being lumped into a category is nearly unavoidable in music these days.

It's exactly this kind of non-definitive music that got Roustabout! organizer and promoter Jeff Van Fossan excited about having these bands on tomorrow's bill.

"I went out of my way to do a show with these bands because they both kind of remind me of other bands that I've heard in the past," Van Fossan said.

"They both are of a similar style: post-punk, underground '80s stuff. They have a lot of punk energy and very catchy songs that are easy to dance to.

"It would be good to get just one of these bands, so both of them together will be awesome."

It is this said underground scene that inspired Hardy and his bandmates to play Roustabout!

"This seemed like the type of night that we will go over well with," Hardy said.

- Penn State Collegian

"4/3/04 live review"

Two if by Sea were a raucous bunch of electronic ingenuity performing with an energy and charisma about them that goes unmatched. I am a big fan of bands playing like rock stars in a arena when they are in clubs (you know jumping, going crazy, standing on amps the whole nine yards…. It’s sexy) and these boys were up to the task completely owning that stage by the end of their set.

"geekpunk review"

two if by sea, remind me alot of proto goth / post punk of bands like joy division bahuas and the edge of 90’s indie rock and pixies like guitar parts at times, but not in the way that bands like interpol or their ilk do it. This has alot of diversity / originality, without a fear to give the guitar some real crunch when it needs to, or add a serious melody that turns the dreary into popy. Im also partial to it becuase their from baltimore, in fact parts of songs sound almost like the oranages, if the oranges could write dynamic songs that dont just sould like valery loves me. Best way I can describe this record is if joy division rose from the ashes of modern punk and not 70’s. lets just say I dig it alot.


"Translations" / LP / Speedbump Recordings / 2004
request the single "this will hurt someone"...

Post-Surgery / EP / Speedbump Recordings / September 16 street date / includes remixes for "this will hurt someone" and "aspida"


Feeling a bit camera shy


Two if by Sea is a 5 piece electronic rock band from Baltimore Maryland. Two if by Sea blends ambient electronics, guitars, live and triggered drums, and voices to create an original postpunk rock infused with the spirit and sensibility of late 70s/early 80s new wave.

Two if by Sea had its furtive, exploratory beginnings in late 2001. We had begun surreptitious, late-night practices in the television studio at school. We started writing, each one of us tossing in influences as disparate as the next, showing ourselves to Baltimore in the Spring of 2002, and taking it to the road in January of 2003.

The Debut LP, "Translations", released on Speedbump Recordings is the first proper effort, recorded with the "album" in mind.

According to the Baltimore City Paper, "Two if by Sea has manic intensity in spades…."

Each show brings more movement from the crowd, and Two if by Sea responds in kind with increasingly dynamic and engaging shows in support of bands like the Q & not U, the Jealous Sound, the Start, , the Witnesses, IMA Robot, and Radio 4.