It was perhaps inevitable that Morrissey would have a successful solo career while Marr also enjoyed some spoils heading from project to project. But what of Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke? Why does no one remember any other names of band members save the frontman or the songwriters? The bottom line is, if you can write a good song, you can outlast the looming specters of your previous endeavors. Once in a while we find out that someone normally in the background can actually write, sing and simply outright triumph, succeeding in their uphill battle for the spotlight. Albert Hammond, Jr. was one of them earlier this year, but even he had one of the biggest bands of the last few years on his résumé, the Strokes. So, what happens when you’re a struggling songwriter in a band that’s not nearly as famous as the Strokes? Well, now every aspiring background player has a role model in Alex Church, a.k.a. Sea Wolf, also known as the bass player and founding member of Irving.
My brother claims that if you have a name like Sea Wolf you better be damn good, or a combination of Kyuss and Mastodon. Well, Alex Church’s music as Sea Wolf is nowhere near comparable to those bands, but what it is more than makes up for the absence of growling aggression and flying V’s. In a way, my brother is right. I’m not sold on the name. At this point, we could organize an entire wolf-themed festival, inviting such acts as Wolfmother, Superwolf, Wolf Parade, Wolf Eyes, Patrick Wolf, Guitar Wolf, AIDS Wolf and open up the show with a reading of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” so it’s hard to find room for yet another lupine-themed band. Luckily, great music can make one forget about a name, forgive its shortcomings, or embrace it totally no matter how cheesy. I mean, really, how bad of a name is Weezer?
Get to the River Before It Runs Too Low is the name of Sea Wolf’s debut EP, and also a recurring phrase in the opening track, “You’re a Wolf.” It’s no stretch to say that “You’re a Wolf” is probably one of the most compelling and arresting tracks of the year. The string section, which is actually Tanya Haden on cello, immediately charms you while the melody of the guitars transfix. Trust me, you’ll be humming the lines, “Old gypsy woman spoke to me” over and over again to yourself. You won’t be able to help yourself. One attribute of all great songwriters is that despite the fact that they might be writing about something incredibly personal, they can phrase it in such a way as to make it universal. That’s exactly what Church does with “The Garden That You Planted.” It’s eerie sometimes how someone else’s words seem to delve deep into your own personal life. “I think about you / Maybe more than I should / … / So will you talk to me / Even though you’ve had a late night / Because I need a little help / Baby, tell me I’ll be alright / Cause everything around me’s changed / But the garden you planted remains.”
“I Made a Resolution” is one of those building songs that I absolutely adore, gaining steam with each progressing line. It also has a touch of humor as his `resolution’ is to never sing a sad song again, yet every successive line is an absolute tragedy. “Sea Monuments” is what you might expect if told that Jason Collett had covered New Order. In other words, it’s an absolute genius pop concoction. “I Don’t Know If I’ll Be Back This Time” is a spare meditation on homecomings, the old neighborhood, growing up, moving on and the loneliness of adulthood. I get choked up every time I hear it, and I’ve listened to this EP at least seven times now. So far, I’ve mentioned five great songs on a five song EP, and I’m having a really difficult time picking a favorite. It’s not often that I love every song on a release. Even EP’s have a hard time pleasing me, despite their length. Usually one or two songs are decent and the rest filler. Not so with Sea Wolf who has released an EP that deserves every accolade it could possibly get. Indie musicians usually aren’t the type to demand attention and acclaim for themselves, which is why I’ll do it for him. I really enjoy Irving, but Alex Church has released an EP that has absolutely left me floored. Let it do the same for you.
MP3: “You Are a Wolf”