Alex Brown Church, the singer/songwriter behind Sea Wolf, is wise as to the timing of his album releases. 2007's impressive debut - Leaves in the River - dropped in September and was a perfect fit to the fall season, with a broad stylistic range of folk songs that conjured both the last sighs of summer and the eerie approach of winter, using everything from acoustic guitars to accordions to digital percussion. And Church's voice - an unassuming, earthy tenor - just amplified the autumn-ness of the music as he delivered stories with titles like "Black Leaf Falls" and "The Cold, the Dark and the Silence." The band's sophomore effort - White Water, White Bloom - follows suit two years later, both in timing and style, though Sea Wolf seems uninterested in simply repeating themselves, offering a selection of songs that trades the intimacy of the band's previous work for a more consistent and expansive rock sound. The result is a record that surprises less, but provides highlights that easily hold up to and perhaps surpass the band's best on their debut.
On first listen - and perhaps as a the price paid for its cohesiveness - White Water, White Bloom may seem a little homogeneous in its folk-rock approach, but after a few listens the songs begin to distinguish themselves more completely, and it ends up being less of an issue than it first appears. Still, the most interesting songs on the album are those that immediately stand out from the pack. "Orion & Dog" is one, which keeps things stripped-down (relatively) and percussion-free, relying on a strong melody and some striking strings to convey Church's astrological love story. On the opposite end of the spectrum, "O Maria!" (which immediately brings to mind The Decemberists' "O Valencia!") is the hardest-hitting tune of the bunch and of Sea Wolf's short career, with a satisfyingly crunchy guitar riff backed by thumping drums and pounding piano. Most everything else falls somewhere in between, relying on various instrumental embellishments to help Church create differing moods and emotions with his vivid lyricism that combines folklore and nature imagery with modern romantic themes. There are weaker moments, but nothing distracting or even really skip-worthy, and as a whole, White Water, White Bloom is a thoroughly enjoyable 40 minutes that in many ways builds on the strengths of its predecessor.
The link below will take you to Sea Wolf's label page and - for an email address - will allow you to download a vinyl-only bonus track ("Stanislaus") for free. Definitely worth your time.
Stanislaus (MP3 download via Dangerbird Records)