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Sea Wolf

For a California project, Sea Wolf sounds uncannily like the Pacific Northwest. An opening vignette on Leaves in the River evokes a mood of night fog and drizzle that never lets up, even in this set's most clamorous tracks.

Sea Wolf resides in the sophisticated imagination of Alex Brown Church. His music immerses subversively catchy, singer-songwriter pop balladry in quirky, experimental instrumentation. Abetted by producer Phil Ek and a rotating cast, Church articulates his emotional landscapes as shaped by a vagabond upbringing in California, Alaska and France. His imagery is worldly, but his predicaments are universally, and resonantly, human.

The enigmatic "Black Dirt" is both less and more than its murder-ballad lyrics might suggest. It's the sound of an unedited id responding to a soul-shriveling blow, certain that the perpetrator will bear the stain forever. The poetry of "The Rose Captain" evokes an almost Elizabethan romanticism in its pining, but the more pragmatic "Middle Distance Runner" is a model of contemporary self awareness: This is a man who knows his start is greater than his finish. "It's stamina that I lack," the lyric confesses. "I will love you forever / But I'll only ever be / a middle-distance runner."

Bleak as they may seem, these songs are nevertheless brimming with vitality, a resolution, of sorts, to slog on despite life's day-to-day disappointments, just to be able to savor the occasional, improbable delights.

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