“If I could surround you with beautiful sounds, I will / If I, if I could repay you for coming to save me, I will / If I, if I could be who you want me to be, I will / If I, if I could surround you with beautiful sounds, I will, I will, I will.” That’s Alex Brown Church on the chorus of “Miracle Cure” with what has got to be the most telling lyric on his band Sea Wolf’s third full-length, Old World Romance.
Make no mistake — there are plenty of valid problems to be had with Romance, but a lack of earnestness sure isn’t one. Church put a lot of work into this record, and to suggest otherwise would be unfairly belittling. Really, it’s more an overabundance of earnestness that enables Romance’s shortcomings; Church exerts enthusiasm almost entirely towards the physical sounds of the Great Indie Record, and almost never towards the writing of one. The result is a fine collection of Coldplay B-sides.
So you can bet that Church delivers on those “beautiful sounds” as promised: Every minute of Romance sounds instantly familiar, but never remarkable — even when superficially reminiscent of the best of Sea Wolf’s contemporaries, including Rogue Wave and Local Natives. The choruses all lush it up, Church’s voice constantly soothes, violins shine, acoustic chord progressions anchor standard pop song structures, and they all manage to go nowhere.
These things that prevent Romance from achieving any level of serious noteworthiness can be especially deceptive when considering how much the album, on the surface, looks the part. Church is still cashing in on a very fortunate appearance alongside Thom Yorke, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, and St. Vincent on the bafflingly stacked soundtrack to The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Furthermore, Romance was mixed by Kennie Takahashi, who has applied his touch to Broken Bells and the Black Keys. Each was surely near the center of Church’s field of vision during the conception of Romance, but the album lands well short of them all.
Romance is bookended by its two strongest songs, “Old Friend” and “Whirlpool”, which is, frankly, a great way of forging a lasting impression with a forgettable record. But if a record that earns its lasting impression is what you’re looking for, you should just listen to what Church listened to.
Essential Tracks: “Old Friend”