When Sea Wolf released their first album a couple of years ago, they had a name taken from a 1904 Jack London novel, music with old-fashioned instruments, lyrics about mysterious old Gypsy women, and a visual aesthetic that seemed based on movies that Tom Waits watched as a boy. It looked and sounded great, but it was largely a put-on. Alex Brown Church, Sea Wolf’s only permanent member, is a former New York University film student, and he knows a thing or two about establishing an atmosphere. If you knew Church from his other band, Irving, you knew he could try out new identities with every new song, switching from ’60s guitar pop to ’70s power pop to ’80s new wave to ’90s alt-rock. And, of course, Sea Wolf’s fondness for wintery imagery (see the song “The Cold, the Dark, and the Silence”) seemed a little forced when you remembered that Church lives in Los Angeles.
For the recent second Sea Wolf album, White Water, White Bloom, Church offers more of the same classic sounds and old-timey atmosphere that he had on his debut, but this time he’s more believable. For one thing, he wrote most of the album while spending a long, dark winter in Montreal; when he sings of springtime rebirth in “The Winter’s Heir,” he knows whereof he speaks. For another, he recorded the album with members of his touring band, and the result is a more confident, road-tested, and dynamic sound. When Church sings about mystical imagery, like “sapphire blood” and “veils all shimmery white,” the powerful drive of the music behind him provides the kind of gravitas he needs.
SEA WOLF: Belly Up, Thursday, November 5, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $10; $12 day of show.