Seagulls - Great Pine
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: April 29, 2014
If one were to judge an album via cover art, the debut album by eastern PA outfit Seagulls would not get much love. Thankfully, the band allows the music to do all the charming. The disc embarks with “Dragoon,” an 80-second opening salvo of sonic ambience and various twinkling and noodling. Usually efforts like this are in a word, pretentious (Young the Giant’s latest album, for example) but being that the album is only ten songs, its fitting and works quite well with the album’s sonic themes.
Great Pine ostensibly starts with the gorgeous “Swimmin’,” a wholly inviting, richly textured work of meticulously crafted lo-fi chamber folk. In just three brief minutes, the quintet has already written a track that most bands would trade their entire discography for. And yet the album is just getting started.
The hazy and slightly intoxicating “You and Me” jauntily bounces with a vernal vigor that seems perfectly suited for the arrival of spring. Whether or not the song was written post-March is anyone guess, but from start to finish it is sun-drenched, ebullient and utterly infectious. One of the album’s many charms its its rustic veneer and that sense of simplicity helps make the crackling “Old Habits,” a true treat. A cover of a song written by unheralded Michigan singer-songwriter Jeff Planki, “Old Habits” is one of Great Pine’s only uptemo cuts but it makes the most of its three minutes.
More often than not, title tracks can be heavy-handed slabs of self-indulgence but for Seagulls, “Great Pine” is an elegiac, slightly symphonic slice of near-perfect chamber folk. “Great Pine” also serves as fitting segue for “Holy Smokes,” a slow-burning torment of swelling guitars and saturnine currents that spits and kicks with a ferocity unlike any of its predecessors. Whereas “Old Habits” was inviting and playful, “Holy Smokes” is stormy and dramatic. Seagulls returns to their bread and butter on penultimate cut “Ocean Cyclone,” a ruminative instrumental that serves as a preface for the spellbinding “Distracted,” a multi-layered tour-de-force that lingers long after the final second and nearly begs the listener to press repeat.
Frontman Matt Whittle is blessed with a weary, woozy vocal timbre and nowhere is that more apparent than on the dreamy valentine “Love, Give” and the equally romantic “Thirteen.” Like a poor man’s Alex Chilton, Whittle has that inherent charisma, a tender fragility that invites you into his world with the simplest of phrases. In “Love, Give,” its the sincerity in which he sings “Love, give your hands to me, for some day I’ll be on bended knee,” and in “Thirteen” it’s the way he wraps his mouth around each and every verse. Tackling Big Star’s most iconic song is never an easy thing but Whittle and Co. tackle it effortlessly and without flaw. More often than not, vocalists are more worried about how they’ll sound to a live audience whereas Whittle is more worried about how he’ll sound to his song’s subjects. That distinct difference is exactly why Great Pine is such a treat.
From start to finish, the album is in a word, delightful. Nothing about Great Pine feels forced, hackneyed or feigned. Rather, this is a collection of some of the most empathetic, earnest and downright honest songs released this year. Not even three weeks old, Great Pine has already gotten love from two of Eastern PA’s biggest names. Both Anthony Green and Good Old War have taken to social media to profess their love for Great Pine, and for good reason. Debut albums are not supposed to be this richly textured, this absorbing or this indelible. As sublime and transcendent as a first kiss, Great Pine is an auspicious debut for a band that won’t be Eastern PA’s secret for long.