Old Sea Brigade expertly navigate troubled waters on latest LP.
“I’m learning to let go, I’m building a life, now I can look at the scars, and not think of the knife” sings Ben Cramer on ‘How it Works’, one of several standout tracks on Old Sea Brigade’s impressive sophomore record. And in doing so, he captures the essence of ‘Motivational Speaking’, an album of poignant sadness which, despite the pain it betrays, ultimately offers hope.
Cramer’s hushed, almost conversational vocals sit atop rich sonic textures, with layers of synth interwoven with sparkling guitars and delicate piano to create a record of rare beauty. This understated delivery set to dream-pop melodies brings to mind Iron & Wine or The National at their melancholic best, abounding with plaintive rumination on loss, anxiety and isolation.
Time and again, melancholic verses give way to soaring choruses, contrasting despair and hope and bringing each into sharper focus. ‘Caroline‘ and ‘American Impressions’ are particularly fine examples of this. ‘Day by Day’ offers an infectious kinetic energy, scampering along at pace before giving way to ‘Salt’, which opens with the kind of sonic dissonance that wouldn’t be out of place on WIlco’s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’, building eventually to lashings of reverb swamped guitars.
Cramer wistfully meditates with devastating effect, imbuing honest observations on space and time with a weight that induces a deep sense of nostalgia and longing; “that was five years ago, it was nearly the spring” on ‘Nothing Clever‘, being a case in point. ‘Walls’ would feel right at home on the National’s ‘Trouble Will Find Me’; its mournful verses eventually succumbing to swells of swirling synth.
As the album draws to a close, through the fog of despair we are offered a glimpse of hope on the subtly upbeat ‘4th of July’, something of a paean to Springsteen and the E Street Band, and the hope that comes from Independence Day, with blankets of saxophone fading over a simple piano melody. “Definitely one to watch”, we proclaimed back in February. Old Sea Brigade continue to have our full attention.