SEA KING - Hazy Dream (Review by Ryan Lowell)
In a music video shot for the song “I Don’t Wanna Lose My Mind,” Jake Newcomb carries a lantern through Battery Steele, the cave like former military base on Peak’s Island, lighting up the graffiti that decorates the walls as he walks through the empty corridors. It’s fitting imagery for “Hazy Dream,” Newcomb’s third album-long search for illumination via various philosophies, religions, and dreams, which he recorded as Sea King.
A Maine native who traded the Portland in Maine for the one in Oregon, Newcomb’s music has always felt as comfortable travelling between genres as the name of his self-created Nomadic Behavior Records suggests. As with previous Sea King albums, “Hazy Dream” is unified by overarching themes of self-betterment, spirituality, and the meaning of life more than it is by any particular sound.
Over the years, Newcomb has become adept at layering samples, vocal effects and backing instrumentation into his music, fleshing out creations to the point where they seldom sound anything like traditional guy and a guitar singer-songwriter stuff. But when you hear a Sea King song, no matter what he has done to manipulate his sound, Newcomb’s heartfelt lyrics are always the centerpiece. The album begins with a vocal slowed and deepened to a register somewhere between satanic and operatic, but Newcomb’s message is anything but obscured as he repeats the line “sometimes I feel like a motherless child.”
This vulnerability is one of Newcomb’s most endearing traits. He opens up even more on the aforementioned “Lose My Mind,” confessing the continued work he’s putting in to maintain sanity, maturity, and sobriety. “I don’t wanna waste my life,” he sings.
Most of the rest of the album inhabits brief, thought provoking bursts that sound like the hazy dreams after which the album is named.
Newcomb’s music dwells in those sleepy moments just after waking up, trying to hold onto snatches of insight from the subconscious that waking life mercilessly rips away.
On “Light In The Cave,” Sea King is “gonna reach for the answers tonight.” On “My Lame Brain,” he struggles to escape the fog of his own mind and the hazy dreams that imprison it. And on “Within Your Mind,” he uses dreaming to “fit infinity into a morning.”
Newcomb continues the search for life’s answers in dreams throughout the album without ever quite getting there. But there are rewards in the continued pursuit, and in Newcomb’s vocalization of it. The album lingers for a lighthearted moment on the soothing standout “No Objective,” which finds Sea King taking the time to stare at the walls and feel just fine about it. Jake Newcomb hasn’t found a way to fully channel the wisdom of his dreaming mind, but “No Objective” suggests he’s not losing much sleep over it. Hopefully those sleep filled nights will help him on his quest to make sense of all those hazy dreams.
“Hazy Dream” was released on October 2nd. To check it out, visit www.nomadicbehaviorrecords.com
SEA KING - My Own Private Cave (Review by Ryan Lowell)
Jake Newcomb released his followup to last year’s Prisoner’s Dilemma during late summer in Portland, Oregon, but every time I listen to it, I’m reminded of mid-winter in Portland, Maine. Seeing as I live there, that’s only natural, I suppose. Still, I’m impressed that Newcomb can create songs about hyper-specific moments in his life that make me feel like they’re about my own. That’s exactly what he did with My Own Private Cave, his second full-length cassette as Sea King.
That’s because the emotions winding their way through his private cave are emotions that all creative types have felt before. Fear. Inspiration. Isolation. Aimlessness. Revelation. Doubt. They all occupy room in Sea King’s cave, just as they occupy space in my mind every time I write (especially when I write in the winter in Maine).
Private Cave packs the same genre fluid identity that made Prisoner’s Dilemma so remarkably unique; vinyl samples, Eastern leaning instrumentals, soft-spoken covers of hardcore punk songs, quiet acoustics and distorted electrics are all present and accounted for. But this time around, Newcomb has worked his wide-ranging influences into a tighter, more focused narrative, where each song feels like a chapter in the same book instead of a short story collection.
And when it comes to being a storyteller, Sea King is a generous one. Many artists attempt to shroud their vulnerability in mystique, but Newcomb’s latest songs peel back the curtain, volunteering moments that are unflinchingly human. On “Meditation, Spiritualism and Love,” he samples a recording of an LSD trip in the Oregon wilderness that brought him to tears. “This mental breakdown brought to you by mother nature,” he says, before recounting that fateful trip in song on “Brokedown at the Falls.” His mid-trip musings are at once funny, profound and intimate, like the music that surrounds them.
Private Cave is rich with such confessional moments, like “Reside,” which finds Newcomb questioning the binary nature of good and evil and where he fits into it, and “Pendulum Swings,” where he admits: “I’ve been caught up in my own world, I ain’t got time for anyone.” As the name Sea King suggests, Newcomb has always been one to ask the big questions: about enlightenment, good and evil, and the meaning of life. My Own Private Cave captures some feelings of doubt that accompany him on the search, but its mere existence is proof that he hasn’t given up. For Newcomb, like those other creative types I mentioned, the examined life is not a choice. It’s a necessity. As he puts it on “Get Me Through,” “music is the way to communicate mistakes. I use it as fuel to get me through.” This line, this song, and this album, serve as a reminder for all creators of art to keep creating. Creation can be lonely business, but the lack of creation is not an acceptable option.
I’ll end on one final, unrelated note. On “Lost Boy,” one of the shortest, simplest and silliest tracks on the album, Newcomb sings: “She wants to hear my songs, I tell her she won’t like my songs like the other boys’ songs.” Too hell with the other boys’ songs, Sea King. The world has enough of those already.
SEA KING - Prisoner's Dilemma (Review by Ryan Lowell of State of Mind Music)
Jake Newcomb's relationship with music has taken many forms over the years. He has published his own music zine, Approaching Oblivion, worked at several local record stores, and created a record label, Nomadic Behavior Records, that specializes in cassettes that he designs and ships. NBR's latest release, Prisoner's Dilemma, is a full-length from Newcomb himself under the moniker Sea King, and true to his ambitions, it spans multiple ideas and styles. It's commonplace for solo projects to be tightly focused to the point where they feel confining, but the Sea King himself describes his music as a place where “nothing is off-limits.” And Prisoner's Dilemma is proof, giving Newcomb his own space to act on any and every inspiration.
Within fifteen songs, Sea King wanders through folk, psychedelic rock, and instrumental, sample heavy hip-hop among other genres, but that wandering never feels aimless. This is partially because of the short and sweet nature of his songs, but also because his wandering is unified by a sense of searching. Newcomb's time spent pawing through bins of worn vinyl is evident throughout the tape, but it also showcases his philosophical side, name dropping Krishna, Socrates and Plato instead of Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies, and asking existential questions at every corner. Even Newcomb's first words on the album, after the ominous Eastern-riff of opener “Troubadour” ends, are spoken in the form of a question. “How many times do you find yourself, trying to find yourself?” he asks on “The Truth,” before delving deeper into the examined life by asking “why have I defied God so many times?” and “if you care about yourself, why do you do what you do?” in the next two tracks.
But these big picture inquiries don't make Prisoner's Dilemma a prisoner to its own heavy thoughts. For instance, on “Mushroom Tea,” searching takes the form of Newcomb's account of guzzling a tea that’s as psychedelic as the song's guitar riff. “Mushroom Tea” marks the start of a midsection that switches Sea King's gaze from the heavens to the people below it. I suppose it's possible Newcomb could be talking to God when he sings “you make me uncomfortable, you're an asshole,” but that wasn't my interpretation. After sampling a line from the movie Magnolia in the chilled out instrumental “Tell Me Everything,” he reprises the asshole on “In Your Nature,” detailing a wounded relationship that is expressed directly and honestly amidst the album's distorted riffs and vocals. Despite its wandering, Prisoner's Dilemma ends close to where it started, focusing a magnifying glass on society in “Pseudo Spiritual,” “Vacuum of Doom” and “The World,” before closing with a pair of instrumentals. The ground that Sea King covers in a mere half-hour could be overwhelming for someone who's not adventurous musically, and it's for that reason that Prisoner's Dilemma is best enjoyed as it was made: with an open mind.
Prisoner's Dilemma is up for full-stream and download here:
EARTH PERSON - The Forgotten Bridge
Keefshovel - Demo (Review by TheObilisk.net)
When drummer Matt Couto handed me what I was told was the last remaining copy of Keefshovel‘s demo tape from Nomadic Behavior Records the other night, Ichabod frontman John Fadden, who was standing nearby, succinctly (and jokingly) asked, ” A demo tape? What the fuck is this? 1983?” That’s pretty much the root critique of the “tape revival” as a whole. Unlike vinyl, which enjoyed some level of reverence even as CDs came up in the ’80s and ’90s and digital media took hold in the late ’90s and 2000s, tapes were left to the stuff of homegrown noisemakers. Their central usefulness — that is, the ability to be recorded on and recorded over — was undone by CD-Rs and file trading. Romanticism for analog warmth and nostalgia aside, there’s little a tape can offer beyond physical presence that I can’t get from a zip file. It seems a reasonable argument to make that tapes went further away than vinyl did because other formats offered the same appeal in a better form. Vinyl broke songs into sides and sounded better. CDs were later made recordable, and digital files were more convenient. You might as well put out an 8-track. It’s an understandable position.
Yet, in revisiting Keefshovel‘s three-song Demo ’13 (first reviewed here), the cassette does sound different, rougher, meaner than the digital version. Part of that is undoubtedly due to the stereo to which my tape deck is hooked up — call it a mid-fi — but whatever it is, the New Bedford sludgers’ rawness makes yet another case for the validity of tapes as a format. They’re cheap and they sound harsh. What part of that doesn’t work? The label on Keefshovel‘s tape is clearly a sticker, and mine has bends in it. The “demo tape” is a classic medium, and in a time when so much of the focus of aesthetic is on celebrating the past while updating its influence into a modern sphere — so many of the criticisms of tapes could also be made about vinyl as well, and that’s before you even get to bands recording analog, vintage sound and style, private presses, etc. – I guess I just don’t see how tapes are any different. They don’t offer vinyl’s clarity. Big deal. Listening to Keefshovel‘s mp3s again, I prefer the nastiness of “Christmas in Brockton” with the tape’s compression. It’s royal viciousness either way, and only gets more so when the vocals kick in on “A Seed in the Rough,” but as far as I’m concerned, the more format the merrier. At least they got to put it out.
I’ve gone through the tracks before — link above — so I’ll spare you that, but with the black and white art, one-sided J-card and already-gone availability, Keefshovel‘s Demo ’13 taps into a valid and elsewhere-honored tradition that shows itself as vital simply through the reaction its existence can provoke on both ends. Put into two sides, “Christmas in Brockton” and “A Seed in the Rough” face off well with the 10-minute “Germ,” and while I don’t know what the future holds for the band, they were able to situate these three songs in an established modus that, while the continued subject of discussion in itself, has obviously stood the test of time. I’m happy to have gotten a copy.