Sea Wolf
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Sea Wolf

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"Album reviews: Sea Wolf"

Sea Wolf, “White Water, White Bloom” (Dangerbird) — Alex Brown Church’s sophomore album is the like the second date with that person you were positively giddy over after the first outing. Then, after all the preening and anticipation, ABC (as he is credited in the liner notes) gets really heavy, so deep into his own metaphors you don’t know whether to run screaming or sit mesmerized. “White Water, White Bloom,” written over a few lovestruck changes of season in Montreal and recorded in Omaha with Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk, M. Ward), is, well … pastoral. In fact, it makes “On Golden Pond” look like an asphalt parking lot. Its fastidiously orchestrated folk-pop provides a gorgeous landscape for ABC’s poetry of reckoning and renewal — a verbal thicket of natural imagery displaying a near-obsession for all things H2O. Let’s see, the album’s lyrics reference water, riversides, waterfalls, mist, fog, dew, seas, bays, snow, ice, currents and flows, harbors, frost and the St. Lawrence. And I might have missed a rivulet or stream, but they’re probably somewhere on Sea Wolf’s “Get to the River Before It Runs Too Low” EP or “Leaves in the River” full-length. So is “White Water, White Bloom” worth getting all moist over? Yes. It could even be the start of a long-term relationship. Recommended. -

"eveals New LP, White Water, White Bloom, And Tour"

orded with a full band (keyboardist Lisa Fendelander, bassist Ted Liscinski and drummer Joey Ficken) will be available September 22. The new songs were injected with a raw, dynamic energy that the band developed through extensive touring together. Many of the new tunes will be unveiled on a cross-country six-week tour beginning in September. Complete tour dates to be announced soon.
Written upon completion of Sea Wolf's touring cycle behind Leaves In The River, Church followed his muse to Montreal and began work on the band's second album. Set against the changing of seasons, the record unfolds like an epic poem over 10 tracks. Pulsing with evocations of nature at its most elemental, Sea Wolf's songs are filled with vivid imagery and a cinematic sense of movement.

White Water, White Bloom drops September 22 courtesy of Dangerbird Records.

Current Tour Dates:
09/10/09 Thu Mississippi Studios Portland, OR
09/14/09 Mon SOhO Restaurant and Music Club Santa Barbara, CA
09/15/09 Tue Detroit Bar Costa Mesa, CA
09/16/09 Wed Glass House Pomona, CA
09/17/09 Thu The Troubadour West Hollywood, CA
09/18/09 Fri Bimbo's 365 Club San Francisco, CA
09/21/09 Mon Mississippi Studios Portland, OR
09/22/09 Tue The Media Club Vancouver, BC
09/23/09 Wed Sunset Tavern Seattle, WA
09/25/09 Fri In The Venue Salt Lake City, UT
09/26/09 Sat Hi Dive Denver, CO
09/28/09 Mon Slowdown Omaha, NE
09/29/09 Tue 7th Street Entry Minneapolis, MN
09/30/09 Wed Mad Planet Milwaukee, WI
10/02/09 Fri Billiken Club St. Louis, MO
10/04/09 Sun Southgate House Newport, KY
10/09/09 Fri Sneaky Dee's Toronto, ON
10/13/09 Tue Paradise Rock Club Boston, MA
10/14/09 Wed Mercury Lounge New York, NY
10/16/09 Fri Union Hall Brooklyn, NY
10/17/09 Sat North Star Philadelphia, PA
10/18/09 Sun Talking Head Club Baltimore, MD
10/23/09 Fri The Earl Atlanta, GA
10/24/09 Sat Exit/In Nashville, TN
10/27/09 Tue The Cavern Dallas, TX -

"Album Reviews: The Best Music of 2009"

ravis Woods

As was the case last year, in an effort to make our obligatory end-of-the-year music lists easier to compile, and because I’m music-obsessed to a ridiculously self-parodic degree, I’ve compiled a guide to our favorite sounds of 2009 (so far).

Also, quite simply: music nerds like to make lists.

Moving along, these are my picks for the best rock music releases, both national and local, of the year thus far, July through September. The January to March list is here, and the April through June list is here. As we inch closer to 2009’s home stretch, we seem to be entering a hot streak for this year–more of my favorite ‘09 albums were released in the past three months than in any other period. So, the next time you’re standing in Amoeba and have no idea what to buy (for those 20 of you still buying albums), be sure to snatch something off of this list. Album selections are after the jump–let me know if I missed your favorites, if I’m dead-on, or way off.

Sea Wolf – White Water, White Bloom

Backed by a full band this time and armed with his continually disarming, elegiac and acoustic-bloomed songwriting, Alex Brown Church has cast the autumnal mood of his Sea Wolf debut, Leaves in the River, over a far more energized set of songs (such as the exceptional and driving “Wicked Blood”), crafting an album that sounds not only like a reinvigorated sense of purpose, but a powerfully eclectic and expansive step forward. -

"The Wolf Is Loose: Live Review of Sea Wolf"

On his debut album Leaves in the River, Sea Wolf was more a cub than a wolf. Generally, his music is soft and calming. When I first heard Sea Wolf it was the end of winter in Minnesota. The weather was still and cold, with gloomy clouds presiding over most mornings. His music fit the scenery, warmly filling the emptiness of the Minneapolis streets. It was therefore strange, almost a year later, listening to his album again, now in the lively urban streets of San Francisco. The music and place felt so different, so unfamiliar all of a sudden.

Sea Wolf is Alex Brown Church’s solo venture, formerly a member of Irving. With his first album, Church’s dark and folksy sound was compared to the Shins and Death Cab for Cutie. On his second album, White Water, White Bloom, Church remains self-reflective singing about love and time over string instrumentation, but has responded to critics with a fuller and more layered sound, suggesting his wolf canines.

On this Friday night, Sea Wolf took the stage for a full crowd at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco. Bimbo’s was an excellent choice for the show with its dimly lit walls, velvet curtains, and ample seating. The old venue has a type of serenity with its preservation that coupled well with Sea Wolf’s sagely songwriting. He focused on songs from Leaves in the River with tracks like “Middle Distance Runner,” “You’re A Wolf,” and “Black Dirt,” while giving tastes of his new album with “O Maria,” “Turn the Dirt Over,” and “White Water, White Bloom.”

Initially, I worried Sea Wolf’s music would be too calm for a live show, but was pleasantly surprised by the intensity of the five piece backing band. With Church playing the guitar, the band’s other instruments consisted of the Korg organ, drums, cello, and bass. The group walked onto the stage, as fog billowed across their path illuminated by overhead blue lights—oh the drama! Brown’s voice was clear and his hit’s like “You’re A Wolf,” sounded almost better than on the album. One of his new songs, “O Maria,” with its hammering guitar progression, and aching hook, struck me as Brown’s answer to critics, pushing himself outside his comfort. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a single from the album. My only complaint from the night, where was the song, “The Cold, The Dark, The Silent,”— please the fans Sea Wolf, or maybe just me, because we can also bite! -

"Twilight Watch: Is There an Indie Rock Dance Party in Twilight: New Moon? [Featuring SEA WOLF]"

We’re aware of how thirsty Twilight fans are for the upcoming release of the film, New Moon, but now it seems music fans may be … hungrier. If you’re both a lover of indie music and of Stephenie Meyer’s four-part teenage vampire saga, then you must be positively aching for the impending release of the movie’s soundtrack, on October 20.
When Atlantic Records released the New Moon soundtrack listing on September 22, indie kids were both shocked and delighted to see many of their favorites contributing new, exclusive material. Big name, arena-filling artists like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Washington darlings Death Cab for Cutie are on the roster, but so are smaller acts such as Sea Wolf, OK Go, Bon Iver, and St. Vincent, who are staples of the club circuit.
We spoke to three of the bands on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack about their song contributions, moody lyrics, and whether they’re Team Edward or Team Jacob.

Alex Brown Church of Sea Wolf on “The Violet Hour”
How would you describe Sea Wolf’s sound?
People often describe us as chamber pop, which applies to everyone from Belle & Sebastian to Arcade Fire. We’re basically a folk-rock band with sea-shanty instrumentation.
What does your song “The Violet Hour” sound like?
It’s a very up-tempo, peppy kind of song with a dark twist to it. It’s about a girl who is interested in me but is also wishy-washy—someone aloof. I get the sense she’s leading me on but I’m not really sure. It’s a little bit sexy.
That sounds very “Bella.”
Maybe it could apply to her character. The song does suit the movie—the vibe and lyrics, definitely.
Do you know what scene it will be featured in?
All I know is it’s going to be in a party scene … a house-party scene.
Can you give us some sample lyrics?
Which track from the New Moon soundtrack are you most excited for?
Meet Me On the Equinox, Death Cab for Cutie
Hearing Damage, Thom Yorke
Rosyln, Bon Iver & St. Vincent
The Violet Hour, Sea Wolf
Shooting the Moon, OK Go
Forget the soundtrack, I wanna see the movie!!!
View Results
Your arms are lovely
Yellow and rose
Your back’s a meadow
Covered in snow
Your thighs are thistles
And hothouse grapes
You breathe your sweet breath
And have me wait

Wow, steamy stuff. What do you hope Twilight fans will take from it?
I hope that it speaks to them in a personal way. I put a lot of myself into my songs, but I don’t want to alienate anyone. It’s a good song. I hope people [who buy the soundtrack] will like it and will hopefully seek us out and check out our other records.
How did you feel when you heard you were going to be on the soundtrack?
That it’s a great honor to be included on the soundtrack with the likes of Thom Yorke, Grizzly Bear, and Death Cab for Cutie. It’s really cool.
If you could be a werewolf or a vampire, what would you be?
I would be a werewolf because this is Sea Wolf! Also, most of the time, you could be normal. I like wolves because they’re beautiful, intelligent, misunderstood creatures.
Check out Sea Wolf’s new album White Water, White Bloom featuring “Wicked Blood,” another Twilight-friendly song about star-crossed lovers. - Vanity Fair

"Sea Wolf w/ Port O'Brien and Sara Lov"

Sea Wolf's Alex Brown Church infuses dark, lyrical balladry with a baroque side (strings swelling out of the deep, crashing cymbals), and yet he never strays far from a good, emphatic chorus. 2007's Leaves in the River found its way onto a few best-of lists, but this year might be when Sea Wolf's ship finally comes to port. (Church takes his nom de guerre from Jack London's classic castaway novel.) On the just-released White Water, White Bloom, Church builds on his sound, giving it a slightly harder edge and an inner surge. Try "Wicked Blood," which builds momentum towards a Spencer Krug-like finish, or the myth-tinged traipse "Orion & Dog."

– Karsten Lund -

"olf, Port O’Brien – Live @ Radio Radio"

Sea Wolf, Port O’Brien – Live @ Radio Radio

Concert Reviews • Monday October 12th, 2009 • 10:29 am

Then the deluge. A rain-soaked night in the city known as the Crossroads of America made way for the cello-drenched, rustic-pop melodies of Sea Wolf. Quirky folk-rockers Port O’Brien opened the show, another stop on what could be called the Coastal Band Names Tour.

Held at one of Indianapolis’s best-kept secrets, Radio Radio in the historic, arty-trendy Fountain Square district downtown, the concert got off to the venue’s typical endearingly tardy start. Alex Brown Church, the brain and heart behind Sea Wolf, trotted out a full-band lineup and a reliance on songs from brand-new album White Water, White Bloom, anchored throughout by Joyce Lee’s cello.

White Water’s ten songs are on the whole much more frenetic than the rest of Sea Wolf’s oeuvre to date. It showed early on in the Springsteen-esque, Rising-era “The Traitor” (one of the record’s few non-earthy titles) and in “Dew in the Grass,” which tumbles along on the strength of drums and cello both. Oregon native Nathan Anderson’s guitar featured prominently, his plugged-in lines providing the wave on which Church repeatedly rode the euphoric chorus, “The dew in the grass had an electric glow.”

The melancholic thread running through “Winter Windows” was an apt, timely precursor to what’s to come late this year – we see all the seasons here in Naptown – and the driving sadness in its strumming remains what Church and his crew do best. “It weighs too much this time, my hands are broken/ She’ll disappear again, before we’ve spoken,” Church intoned later on the downtrodden “Black Leaf Falls.” Here’s a guy whose only recreational drug may be relational dismay. Carry on, we say – you make pretty songs out of it.

“I’m never gonna sing a sad song again,” Church moaned/lied at one point. The singer’s distinctly morose moan/mumble eases pleasingly through his songs in ways you only wish the man could through this life, by the sound of it. If indeed he carries baggage, he certainly carries no pretensions. It’s safe to say after interviewing him and witnessing a couple Sea Wolf shows (he previously toured in support of Nada Surf) that Alex Brown Church will have nothing to do with the postmodern frills of some indie-rock siblings. It’s remarkable to see in a songman hailing from LA.

“O Maria!” appeared as the bouncy, lovelorn epitaph to another relationship that’s bit the dirt, the most upbeat song Sea Wolf has birthed. White Water opener “Wicked Blood” continued his penchant for writing Halloween-ready fare, and revealed once again Church’s consuming drive for fashioning fairly intricate, layered folk-pop.

In encore came a solo acoustic take on “Orion & Dog,” and when Church utters the line, “This body is mine, and you may do with it whatever you like,” it’s not so much in defeated resignation as in a doting realism. The song, one of just a couple down-tempo tracks on the new album, tells a stark tale of constellation love. If Church named his band after a character in a Jack London novel, he may yet have a novel in himself, or at least a narrative concept album.

Closing it out was the expected “You’re A Wolf,” Sea Wolf’s biggest song to date. The full-band backing returned with Anderson’s lead guitar screaming to the song’s finish, a welcomed changeup for a song these people must be beyond sick of playing by this point.

First up on this bill was LA’s Sara Lov, a precocious, diminutive lass with a lovely, breezy voice and a winsome vibe. She sang her trademark song “Fountain” (now featured on a couple soundtracks, as everything seems to be these days) before closing with a surprising cover choice, Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage.” Tapping that was brave, if lacking the gothic power or the passion of the original.

San Fran folksters in Port O’Brien came next with shout-sing anthems sometimes reminiscent of Akron/Family as fronted by Daniel Smith (Danielson). My companion noted rightly that one song actually sounded a lot like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” on the verses. The makeup of the band appears odd on-stage: three scuzzy-looking dudes and a fetching, if seemingly nonplussed, brunette. That girl is Cambria Goodwin, prettier half of the songwriting/life couple at the core of Port O’Brien with Van Pierszalowski. Their moniker’s shared with an Alaskan bay, and so sidling up to Sea Wolf made good sense, no doubt.

The band’s latest disc, Threadbare, dropped on October 6, and they mined it to good effect. In a set eight songs strong, the band set the perfect stage for Sea Wolf’s themes with the line, “I’m doing fine in the city, and I don’t miss the stars.” -

"Sea Wolf : Leaves in the River"

Sea Wolf is an indie outfit perfectly suited to light up the blogosphere, mostly because they sound like an indie outfit. Also, up until May, when their EP, Get to the River Before it Runs Too Low, hit the shelves, not many of us knew who they were. The good news is that, unlike many bands that fall into the e-hype trap, Sea Wolf doesn’t just sound like a good band when streamed off some undergrad’s bandwidth, they actually are a good band. Their first full length, Leave in the River, is further evidence of that.

Essentially, Sea Wolf is an outlet for singer-songwriter Alex Brown Church, (who also plays bass for Irving). Church has said that, though he’s spent most of his time in California, his music doesn’t have a connection to one place. However, the sound of Leaves in the River belies that statement a little. Recorded in Seattle with Phil Ek, the album sounds distinctly northwestern. It is a damp, grey, and dreary record from beginning to end. You can feel the fog rolling in at every moment; the clouds sit above Church while he sings, threatening to rain if they aren’t already.

What makes Church’s claim valid is that so often the ominous feeling of late fall days is tied more to the narrators of these songs rather than their surroundings. Sure, there are the title leaves floating in the title river, the ocean always on the outskirts of the lonely lives that Church depicts. There are dingy drifts of snow, late-night rain and an ever-present darkness. But all these details seem handpicked by the narrator, more as road flares illuminating the ditches that these people are brooding in than the stuff that makes up the road itself. In “The Cold, the Dark, & the Silence”, over an appropriately antiseptic drum loop, Church sings “When the cold, the dark, and the silence come, it’s like a sudden rush of water through your heart and lungs”. This comes late in the a record full of imagery that sets up water as a constant presence that can sometimes push you to deadening numbness and, at its highest tides, shocking loneliness.

Along with the solitary narratives that run through Leaves in the River comes equally spare instrumentation. An unassuming rhythm section backs Church and his simple guitar. A cello that adds to an ominous tone as much as it can provide a beautiful lilt is often present. In “Middle Distance Runner” the strings provide comfort to Church’s narrator who knows he can’t commit to a woman, and wants to just pretend that its okay for a night. On other tracks, when Church lets a little anger slip into his narrators’ self-loathing, the instrumentation seems to side with them. A jangly, shrill guitar riff picks along while Church sings “Black dirt will stain your feet, and when you walk, you’ll leave black dirt in the street”. It’s rare in these songs for the narrator to put that sort of burden on others, but here it is just sinister enough to be at least partially honest. The shift is a welcome one in an album so full of brooding.

What gets in the way of this record’s complete success is exactly what makes it so popular with the bloggers. Lumped together on one album, these songs get to be too self pitying for their own good. Mostly, Church is good at avoiding overt romanticism in all the bourbon and near-tears. But when, in “Winter Windows”, he sings “This is the world, this is the world we live in, it’s not the one we chose but it’s the one we’re given,” it becomes problematic. The narrator is shirking the responsibility for his sad-sack state in a liquor-induced fit of self-pity. Whether Church is condemning this character or letting him off the hook is unclear, and the sentiment of this song, the second on the record, bleeds through the rest of Leaves in the River.

Most of the songs are good enough on their own to sidestep that pitfall, but “Song for the Dead”, with its sing-song chorus, is too contrived to stand on its own (Church awkwardly rhymes “thicket” with “cricket”), and ends up being the worst track. That “You’re a Wolf”, which also appeared on the EP, is the best track on the album is unfortunate, but songs like “Black Leaf Falls” and closer “Neutral Ground” come awfully close to matching the band’s default anthem. The opening title track would be a serious contender too, if it weren’t hamstrung by dull atmospherics that seek to set a mood that the songs themselves can provide more organically.

There will be those that laud Leaves in the River as the coming of the next great heartbreak band. And while they’re probably giving Sea Wolf a bit too much credit, those who dismiss this record as too simple are missing the little things that make this record, and Sea Wolf as a band, very solid. -


*Get to the River Before it Runs Too Low EP (Dangerbird Records, 2007)
*Leaves in the River (Dangerbird, 2007)
(White Water, White Bloom (Dangerbird, 2009)



aking its name from novelist Jack London’s 1904 seafaring adventure, Sea Wolf has evolved organically from its hermetic origins in Alex Brown Church’s living room into a muscular, full-bodied musical entity with passion to burn. After adopting the sobriquet, Church burst onto the music scene in two-fisted fashion with the EP, Get to the River Before It Runs Too Low, and the subsequent full-length debut album, Leaves in the River, about which Interview magazine observed, “His music is both erudite and unvarnished, a blend of swirling melodies, literary balladry and damaged art-rock composition.”

And now, Church’s singular vision has led to the creation of the eloquent and expansive new album White Water, White Bloom, which not only fulfills the immense promise of the initial musical diptych but conjures up its own cosmology. This is one of those rare and mysterious records wherein, the first time you hear it, you can’t shake the feeling that it’s always been part of the soundtrack of your life. You intimately know its ups and downs, its melodies and cadences, its settings and characters.

“I couldn’t have known beforehand what the next record would sound like,” says Church, “but I did know I wanted it to be bigger, with a band feel, rather than another series of intimate confessionals.”

A song cycle set against the changing of seasons, this timeless work unfolds like an epic poem, yet resonates with thematic elements that speak, elliptically yet unmistakably, to the world we live in. Pulsing with evocations of nature at its most elemental, Church’s songs are flooded with vivid imagery, carried along on torrents of sounds as majestic as a mountain stream swollen with the bracing, crystalline runoff of spring’s first warming breath. What’s more, he sings these songs with newfound power, the result of extensive roadwork behind Leaves in the River, while deepening the mesmerizing expressiveness with which he made his initial mark.

Opening track “Wicked Blood” begins with what sounds like an orchestra tuning up before surging to glorious life, the rhythm section shaping itself into a propulsive groove accented by delicate piano notes, carrying along the opening chapter of the saga: “We met in the East/ poured in like a flood,” Church begins, shadowed by the breathless wheeze of an air organ, “You’re the whispering kind/dark sapphire blood/A vision of veils/all shimmery white/like a backdrop of sails/all aglow from the light/of the wonder behind/at a starry night.” And with that, we’re off into an adventure of cinematic immediacy, as befits the sensibility of this onetime film student, who’s clearly found his natural medium of expression.

“Lyrically,” says Church, “I like to incorporate what one would construe as classic imagery, and even infuse the songs with elements of mythology, but also delve into more contemporary themes. I’m interested in the way words look and feel, not just when you hear them but also when you read them.”

Church’s verbal acuity is mated with bold, vibrant soundscapes set off with thundering drums, stabbing, reverb-soaked electric guitars and ghostly keyboards, resulting in such memorable pieces as the mythological tale “Orion & Dog,” ornamented with strings right out of a John Ford western; the folk-noir fable “O Maria!”; the surging title song, burning with Byronic heat; the fever-dreamscape “Spirit”; the muted, idyllic, “The Orchard”; the Dylanesque roundelay “The Traitor”; and the closing “Winter’s Heir,” with its life-embracing denouement.

“When I write a song,” says Church, “for me it’s always associated with a specific place and time. For example, ‘Orion & Dog’ was written during the summer, and ‘Winter’s Heir’ is about coming out of the long Montreal winter and experiencing a sense of rebirth.”

The album has a back story: “I met and fell in love with a girl in Montreal while on tour with Irving, and just before signing with Dangerbird,” Church recalls. “And then, while touring behind the Sea Wolf record, I spent most of my time off in Montreal with her. Apart from ‘Wicked Blood’ and ‘O Maria!,’ which I wrote in Los Angles, everything on White Water was written in Montreal, holed up in our little apartment, a block away from the river. That was all of last fall, winter and spring, so I was very much influenced by that experience, and a lot of the record is set there in my immediate surroundings, along with remembrances of being home on the West Coast.”

White Water, White Bloom was recorded at the Omaha studio of Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Monsters of Folk), with Church handling vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, as well as some of the air organ and pump organ sounds that were such a big part of the sonic signature of the earlier records. Joining him were the three core members of the six-piece Sea Wolf touring lineup: keyboardist Lisa Fendelander, bassist Ted Liscinski and drummer Joey Ficken. The remaining slots were filled by Mogis on lead guit