Review Summary: I wanna feel peace when I rest/so I know that I passed love's test
Old Sea Brigade’s first full-length release doesn’t start with a bang, but rather a slow crawl. Soft electric guitar leads are sprinkled over the airy production, and Ben Cramer’s soft Justin Vernon-esque low register provides a natural counterpoint. Beyond this, the entirety of “Sinkhole” is a somber ballad with modern-meets-vintage production values and ebb-and-flow dynamics, a seemingly fitting way to introduce an artist who’s garnered comparisons to Southern Gothic artists like Iron & Wine. But what distinguishes Cramer from other musicians who continue to crowd the indie folk scene today? Well, I suppose that comes down to the incredibly “spacious” nature of the production values. On the surface, Ode to a Friend
isn’t doing anything new to set it apart - the songwriting is par for the course, and this kind of “alternative folk” balladry has already been done by more popular folk musicians such as The Civil Wars. But the distinguishing features are perhaps best explained by the album’s third track “Feel You.” Here, we get a mesmerizing, almost dream pop-influenced piece of restraint and simplicity; it mostly revolves around a few minimalistic piano figures, and the floaty synths and guitar leads wrap around them like a shroud. It may sound a bit too safe and unadventurous, but it also sounds incredibly warm and comforting.
I suppose that may be the best way to explain Ode to a Friend
’s simultaneous appeal and flaws. This is the kind of album you’d put on when you’ve had a long day at work and need to wind down, or when you just need to sit back and reflect on things for a bit. No song comes remotely close to being anthemic or wildly energetic, and unfortunately, the incessantly subdued volume is the primary reason for the album being as homogeneous as it is. Still, let me give credit where it’s due. First of all, Ben Cramer pulls out some excellent guitar chops on this thing; “Western Eyes,” “Cigarette,” and “Hope”, in particular, are all bolstered by rapid fingerpicked melodies that compliment the delicate vocals and hopeful atmosphere perfectly. Also, I have to give an honorable mention to the closing title track, which draws from those aforementioned dream pop vibes to create a truly hypnotic reverb-drenched guitar finale. Top that with vocals that sound as though they came straight out of Ulver’s Assassination of Julius Caesar
album, and you’ve got a really nice way to wrap up the album. I think that descriptor - “nice” - best sums up Ode to a Friend
. In no way is it groundbreaking or innovative. In no way is it a substantial departure from other atmospheric indie folk. Still, I have a lot of respect for an artist who doesn’t need to resort to cheap gimmicks or half-hearted folk-pop “anthems” to get a message across. This is honest, humble music played very competently… and for that, it gets my modest recommendation.