As I Am
As I Am is available at:
20th May, 2017
SURVIVAL and restorative mixes of music are the first things I want…
to talk about in this review. Seadog are, as their name would suggest, a band who take from the ocean and that ‘older’ style of music. Before I come on to the Brighton music scene and venues; looking at patronage by famous artists; professionalism and ambition; conquering the local scene and the importance of providing music a bit of quirkiness, I want to look at those genres that are under-utilised and in need of greater exposure. The last few weeks, I have been looking at more traditional and commercial genres. A lot of the artists I focus on tend to perform Folk, Indie and Rock but, to an extent, Seadog do too. What separates them from everyone else is the sensation one gets when listening to their music. In the past, I have reviewed Hokum/Ragtime and 1950s-inspired musicians who, to be fair, are taking quite a gamble. Aside from a few wonderful solo artists who mix 1930s/’40s Swing with Electronic shades – leading to a modern sound with older-decades charm and evocativeness – it is always quite risky revitalising genres that have died a death. In the case of Seadog, they do not exactly perform sea shanties down by the docks but seem to yearn for a simpler time. I am painting Seadog as an old-fashioned ragtag bunch but, to be honest, they have a very modern sound and flair to them. Underneath the harmonies, textures and imaginative sounds there is a genre – perhaps one they have invented – that takes you back to the past and is quite rare in 2017. I think the band name gives you an impression in terms of the sound that might not conjoin with the musical reality. The Seadog clan provoke images of long-bearded trawlermen gathered around a harmonica singing about the crashing waves and company of the ocean. Whilst one does get a blast of that, this would be a disservice to the band. What impresses me about them most is how unique and classic they sound. There are harmonies and a blend of acoustic and electric guitars but, when hearing them, my imagination is taking somewhere vivid and tranquil.
In a time when modernity and urgency are shoved down our throats – the quick, one-click shopping and streaming songs to the world – one gets a sense of relaxation and comfort with the Brighton posse. I guess ‘Folk’ is the nearest genre you can attach to their sound but, in reality, it is more complex and colourful than that. The harmonies they produce have been described as ‘rain-riding’ and ethereal; enough to turn the birds green with envy and seduce the hardest of hearts. I guess there are bands who highlight vocals but, in my view, there is a greater tendency to emphasise lyrics and instrumentation. In a sense, Seadog are returning to a time when the Folk legends – Neil Young and Bob Dylan – played; even earlier when vocal harmony groups like The Andrews Sisters ruled. It is a wonderful concoction that one does not experience too often. That is what gets me thinking about the need to preserve and, indeed, reinterpret aspects of music that have faded into the archives. If bands like The Staves and Fleet Foxes, lauded and notable because of these serene and sumptuous vocals, are quite rare; their sheer quality and popularity proves there is a definite need for replication. I may be overstating the fact music is ultra-modern – as there are enough musicians crafting something vintage and more mature – but it is always nice to have expectations subverted by artists that take the mind to a purer, classic time for music. Those harmonies, coming back to them again, have been promulgated by some seriously big names and seem to be the biggest weapon from Seadog. On the first listen, the band’s sounds elevate the senses and make the hair stand on end – caught and uprooted by the beauty and grace. The more you listen, you pick up new things and unravel the depths and layers they put together.
In fact, before I talk about Brighton, I want to take a moment and underline how important/rare it is for other, bigger musicians to heap praise on an artist. Sure, there are a few that might get a nod from an established act but I did not hear about it that often. In the case of Seadog, they have won plaudit from none other than C Duncan. He, if you are not aware, has impressed critics with his choral compositions and lo-fi/Alternative-Folk records. Having Classical musicians as parents, it is perhaps no surprise the young man was inspired to go into music himself. His latest album, 2016’s The Midnight Sun, scored some big reviewed and is still being played on national radio – newest single, Like You Do, shows why he is one of Britain’s finest and most impressive young songwriters. Anyway, he has listened to Seadog – unsure whether he was referring to their current single – but C Duncan was impressed. Highlighting the chord progressions and the general loveliness of the song: the musician was compelled to go in for another listen and get his ears around it. If that were not enough, the big boys Granddady have extolled the virtues of their music. Tragically, the Californian band lost member Kevin Garcia to a stroke very recently but the album, Last Place in March – already being tipped as one of this year’s best – was completed with him on-board. The U.S. band noted Seadog’s back-and-forth nature and experimentation: switching between intimate and close; going to far-off and echoed. They liked the qualities and intimacies but were affected by the unexpectedness of it all. I know a lot of bands catch the ears of the big artists but there are few that come out with such impassioned and awed words of praise – few that have the same stature and reputation as Grandaddy and C Duncan. Many bands would rest on their laurels, given that kind of backing but not Seadog. They have been working tirelessly creating superb and diverse songs to ensure they are provided gig opportunities and focus. Simon Raymonde (Bella Union/Cocteau Twins) – I will move on soon – is another big name to lend his thoughts to Seadog’s music:
“Seadog have been quietly working their way into our hearts through a consistent run of tracks released over the last few years. New song “As I Am” takes things even deeper. With a delightful balance of soft melancholia and pristine harmonies, occasionally recalling the tone of a young Elliott Smith, Seadog’s home within our hearts is set for many more years to come.”
Before I do come to my next point, and look at a great music city, I want to continue on the theme of legendary artists. I do not feature an artist based on the number of positive reviews they get – and whether they are from famous musicians. What impresses me about Seadog’s praise-heavy narratives and snapshots is how soon they have come. They have been together a while but, predominantly, relied on local media and gigs to get their music out there. One might wonder how a big American act connects with a smaller Brighton-based crew. Not only have Grandaddy celebrated Seadog’s music but invited them to open for them at a recent Brighton show – a sold-out one, no less! I guess quality music will find its way across the oceans and to unexpected places. I can understand C Duncan vibing from the music as both acts place vocal harmonies and beauty at the top of their mix. If you were a famous artist, and were impressed by a new act, would you be vocal about it? Maybe Beyoncé is sat at home and hears a snatch of, say, Anderson.Paak playing on the local station. Is she going to take to social media and proffer some positivity or invite him to support her next gig? I would say there is either a break in the chain – meaning a lot of big names never get to dig some incredible new music – or an understandable lethargy and lack of response – owing to their busy schedules and time constraints. To actually take the time to truly listen to a new artist and, when impressed, let them know about that is an honour and rarity that should not be taken lightly. Seadog have supported Hayley Bonar, Blue Roses; Erland and the Carnival (among others) and in no short-supply of high-profile backers. That might seem like a dig at all other musicians, that don’t have that eye-catching support crew – but is not meant to be.
It has been a while since I have visited Brighton’s music but every time I go there the individuality of the musicians amazes me. London and other cities are exceptional but are more predictable than somewhere like Brighton. I am not sure whether it is the sea air or the community down there but one hears a greater number of experimental, odd and wonderful artists. I have mentioned Brighton bands like The Wytches but, away from them, I have encountered Folk duos, Psychedelic bands and 1950s-sourcing Pop acts. It is a veritable boiling pot of peculiar scents and vivid colours – much like a work through The Lanes, I guess! Thanks to Fred Perry for the tips on Brighton music – tips that were made in response to 2016’s promise. This year, there are a lot of great new acts playing around Brighton but last year’s hopefuls have made promising strides. We may associate Brighton with Fatboy Slim, British Sea Power and Bat for Lashes – Royal Blood might be on the mind, too. The new crop is just as important and determined to keep Brighton’s name in the public mind. Black Honey, as I have mentioned them before, always produce fantastic and are one of the brightest bands coming through the ranks. Last year, there was relatively little know about them but, led by Izzy Bee Phillips, their sounds are becoming more diverse and broad with each release. In fact, the band are supporting Royal Blood as they play Ibiza Rocks on 4th July – they played with them at the O2 Academy Leicester last night and been to Southampton, Newcastle and Cambridge in the last few days. The single, Something Better, was unveiled a couple of months back so it seems they are preparing something big, soon. The Magic Gang, again, are another group who have made strides since critical speculation last year. The acid-wash nostalgia and Slack-Rock sound, as Fred Perry described, sound have released some terrific material and shared the stage with the likes of Wolf Alice and Bloody Knees. The track, How Can I Compete, was released a few months back and met with acclaim – another band, perhaps, aiming for an E.P. or album soon.
Our Girl, back in 2015, released a track called Sleeper and, since then, have been amazing critics and fans. Since then, they have been busy and their last original track, Being Around, was released late last year. That is taken from their E.P., Normally, and the quartet of songs were written over a period of four years. There is emotional distance on the tracks but an indifference and sense of dismissal at certain thoughts and feelings. That sensation of not sweating the small things comes through. The trio are continuing to grow and perform as much as possible – a definite band to watch through 2017. Iyes are Josh Christopher and Melis Soyaslanová. They make dreamy Pop songs that have been compared to the xx and those his-her vocals have a romance, connection and sense of wonder that has, unsurprisingly, resonated. Strange Cages are a force that interests me. Like Royal Blood, Red Blood Shoes and The Wytches; they are a Brighton band who favour the more drugged, heavy and lo-fi Rock. They have Garage strands and have favoured comparisons with The Cramps. The trio’s influences come through strongly – The Wytches have the same obviousness in their music – but that sense of identity and original promise overrides any easy comparisons. Remi Miles released his Inside of Paradise E.P. last year and has found a niche in Brighton. Originally from Virginia; the dapper-dressed Miles – someone who yearns for the Mod lifestyle Brighton is famed for – brings breezy Pop and 1980s sounds together with tropical, sunny notes and a sensational lead vocal. The last ‘newish’ band I want to put forth is the four-piece of Momotaro. They unite natural sounds with manufactured elements and have, because of this, appealed to a wide demographic. They are an Electronica band who rely on technology but ensure they play instruments on stage – a symphony of drones and funky bass lines. Another act that harks back to ‘80s’ music; they unify silky vocals with stunning melodies and stunning, beautiful compositions.
I will talk more about Brighton’s people and attraction when closing this review but realise Seadog are among a supportive and busy music community. They, like the acts just mentioned, have huge potential and feeding on the energy and diversity of the city. On their doorstep, they have access to some of the most reputable venues in the country. The Prince Albert – with its legendary Bansky mural depicting two kissing policemen – is one of the biggest and busiest venues in the city and ranks alongside newer spaces like Green Door Store as a must-visit for any new band. Sequestered under railway arches and having a vintage, Prohibition-era feel; it houses the best, small noisy bands and dedicates nights to music-lovers of Jazz, African sounds and Funk. Not far from the station, one can visit the one-hundred-and-fifty-capacity Hope & Ruin and witness its unique décor. Tables are made from old washing machines and baths and is proving itself to be a natural venue for any band who wants to cut their teeth in a fantastic area. Many bands have received enraptured cheers from those on the balcony that overhangs the stage at The Haunt. It is a great name for a venue that has, suitably, been created in a Grade II-listed building in Hove. It is a grand and visually-arresting venue that puts on Alternative ‘80s and ‘90s nights and is a dream location for many acts. One can see bands at the imperial and legendary Brighton Dome or go to the more intimate and snuggly Corn Exchange. After dark – quite a long time after, in fact – there is activity down by the sea. Clubs like Komedia do ‘80s night – for those who typically despise ‘80s nights – and is a great spot to unwind and socialise. With so many wonderful venues within drooling-distance of their rehearsal space; Seadog have been able to get right into the mix and take advantage. I am not sure whether the band have played venues like Green Door Store but it seems suited to them. Brighton itself could occupy the group for weeks but, I know, they want to cast their net wider. It is clear there’s a vivacious and captivating music scene in Brighton that, as I will go on to show, provides colour, wonderful side-streets and a fantastic mix of people.
I’ll get to Seadog’s music but, before I do, will look at professionalism and how music that strays from the ‘acceptable norm.’ is a good way of getting noticed fast. Whilst I have been rallying against artists that produce few photos and images, there is another vein of musicians who are disorganised and have no official site. Seadog are set up with an official page that, helpfully, brings all their music, photos and information together with their social media spread. It is easy to access everything they have produced and get a great written and visual view of who the band are and what they are about. It may seem like a minor aspect of music but I yearn to know more about a group like Seadog. I can listen to their music and learn a little but that does not tell me the stories behind the members and put faces to names. I want to discover the music but learn a little about the creators; follow them on social media and keep updated with their happenings. It would shock you to see the number of artists who care little of keeping and recruiting fans. They might have a Facebook page but do not provide links to their Twitter and SoundCloud accounts. They expect others to do that: some artists do not even have a Facebook/Twitter account and, in this day and age, that is not good enough. There is no excuse one can provide for omitting sites like Twitter. Because of this, I get angry at a lot of acts and wonder whether they are truly serious about music. Seadog take their platform seriously and have gone to great lengths to ensure, for people like me, there is organisation, information and photography – it pleases the senses and gives me a story of the band and what they are doing right now.
It may seem insignificant but, like I have said before, music, in a way if like dating; it is a business, too. If you are setting up a dating profile – in order to attract a perfect mate – would you omit a photo and information. You get these dating profiles, not that I’d know!, that say stuff like ‘Ask me later’ and have a blurry photo. You wonder the type of people that contact them and the best way to get results is a range of good photos, personal information and personality. In a business sense; you are selling your music and trying to get as many people interested as you can. Again, if you had an unprofessional and narrow business plan; how many people would invest and take you seriously?! Music is not less important so it is baffling seeing so many artists ignore something as straightforward and essential. That is why bands like Seadog compel me to write: they take care to ensure people do not pass them by and stop in. The more professional and considerate an artist is, the more likely they are to intrigue journalists and fans; gain that long-term regard and have those big names flocking their way. If one visits Seadog’s official page (link below) you have a single port-of-call that provides all their information and music. It is a thorough and eye-catching page that should set an example to fellow musicians. Those who take little care in this respect are going to have a somewhat shaky future. Seadog, with their authoritative and full online visibility, ensure their music speaks volumes. I have mentioned how there is a certain quirkiness – not only in name but nature – and this extends to the compositions and themes. The band have that special space and extra ingredients their peers lack. It is easy to see why musicians like C Duncan have struggled to tear their ears away from songs like As I Am. If those heavenly and emotional harmonies do not obsess the mind then the genre-mix and unexpected sounds surely will. Seadogs have an incredible bond and this chemistry comes through in their music.
The opening moments of As I Am recalls Seadog’s previous work and will be familiar to existing fans. It is a gorgeous and dreamy sequence of chords that transports the mind into a very alluring and scenic realm. I was imagining being by the ocean and alone in the quiet and reflecting. It is a skipping and rousing introduction but one that has a seriousness and meaning. One imagines the sort of scents and visions at that water-side space. Seadog have built a reputation on, among other things, penning instant and hugely memorable introductions. Their Transmitter E.P., released a few years ago, contained similar songs that grabbed you from the outset and painted vivid and incredible pictures. Here, when the hero comes to the microphone, he is hiding away from someone. The song’s title seems, at that moment, clear and mysterious. Maybe there is that need to get away from the stresses and noise of modern life. Perhaps a relationship has met its end or it is a temporary rift. Our man is planning his “next attack” among the cobwebs and down by the dusty track. You speculate whether this is an attack on life or a literal one – my suspicions are it is the former. Whatever has happened, things have reached a plateau and it appears there is little option. When listening to the early moments of As I Am; I am reminded of Folk artists like Nick Drake and the brilliance he displayed across Bryter Later. There are shades of Pink Floyd and modern Folk artists like Bon Iver. It is quite a sedate and calm refrain but one that has plenty of punch and determination. Those lyrics are ones you unpick and try to get to the bottom of. It is a song that, to me, appears to represent a man who has been let down and needs to make a change in life. That sense of ‘attack’ is a stark and standout sentiment in a track that is largely composed and level-headed. I guess it is an emotional response to struggles: the hero needing to make changes and affect some sort of positivity.
The Pink Floyd vibes solidify and augment as the song kicks up a gear. One hears nods to Dark Side of the Man and later work like Wish You Were Here. It is an experimental and cosmic combination of sounds that has that progressive nature but feels very modern and unique. The band are always pushing their sound but keep an air of familiarity – fans of their older work will recognise how evolved and muilt-layered the band is. The composition is that stunning thing that has the same ambition and scope as a Dark Side of the Moon classic but brings together Seadog’s past work into something explosive, psychotropic and utterly beguiling. Hearing the notes progress and mutate; the players all coming together and weaving something extraordinary. The hero states it is a long way down – from where he is – and there that heightened the feeling of uncertainty and desperate. That said, the calm in the vocals reveals a man who is not quite at his limits but, perhaps, at a point where he needs to assess options and do something. There is that mystique that means the song’s true meanings are never revealed. Each listener has to arrive at their own conclusion and speculate what the song is referencing. I was thinking of a man who has experienced a lot of disappointment and betrayal but has a sense of hope and defiance. That song title suggests someone who is flawed and human: being buried under the ancient rocks; the hero is alone with his thoughts and left to mull things over. Who knows whether there is any way back for our man but one imagines there is a plan in his mind. Perhaps As I Am is a temporary setback in a life that has seen many highs. Maybe there is that natural need to move on and change life. Things might be too crowded and complicated so a sense of undress and simplicity is necessary. The hero is looking at a sense of revival and hope and states, if he makes it out of this place, things need to be done. It is a stark imagine but one not meant to be morbid: always looking at the light and trying to change things for the better. One luxuriates in the sea of colours and expressions summoned by the band. Whether you directly compare it to Pink Floyd – a natural modern-day compassion to their best work – or judge it on its own merits; it is stunning song that has so many complexities and possibilities. Experiencing it in its fullness requires a lot of listens. You will not be able to take it all in to start and fully grasp what the band is saying. I can understand why bands like Grandaddy have bonded with Seadog. The Brighton band seems fully-formed and, more than that, like a force who have been playing for decades.
There is a lot of attention for Brighton right now due to Kate Tempest curating the Brighton Festival and The Great Escape having finished last night (the three-day festival is packing up and clearing up after a memorable and incredible time). The former has been interesting me – having heard interviews with Tempest promoting the event. She is, as you can appreciate, the perfect curator for an event that has brought the best literature, Spoken Word and music together across Brighton and Hove. Not only have there been staged events but unexpected and intimate readings at random places. Speaking enthusiastically about the festival; Tempest was keen to promote and highlight the rich array of artists and musicians we have in the country. Brighton, with a bit of damp weather here and there, provided a suitable bright and emphatic stage for her imaginative and expert selections to shine. After her sterling work and consummate passion this year; one imagines it will not be long until she is asked to curate an event like Meltdown Festival. The Great Escape has just finished (as mentioned) but, running alongside the Brighton Festival; has given the patrons by the coast a wave of wonderful entertainment. Brighton will take a while to recover from the festivities and wonderful moments witnessed. It is an affirmative and fruitful time for Brighton. The mandarins of music have treated us to a spectacular last few weeks and that looks set to continue. The talent in Brighton continues to amaze and promise future stars. Royal Blood have graduated and are a proper big sensation; Red Blood Shoes and The Wytches continue to plug and growing stronger by the year – Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan is one of the most inspirational songwriters in the country. I cannot wait to see who joins Seadog as hot Brighton talent to watch. The Folk/Alternative band continue to craft sensational music and have a big future ahead.
Actually, contrary to my Seadog/Green Door Store quandary – whether the band have played there – has been answered with a cursory glimpse of the band’s official website. They play the Brighton Noise Festival (at the venue) on 8th July and will be back there on 29th for the Carousel Festival. It is good seeing the band get some great gigs in Brighton and one can only imagine how they will progress – more on that in a bit. Mark Benton’s band has evolved since the one man employed a carousel of musicians to help bring to life his imaginative and gorgeous music. Now a settled five-piece, there is a lot of excitement in camp. The reviews have been fantastic and without hyperbole. Those sumptuous harmonies have been underlined; the skill and professionalism of the band applauded – those who love the older sounds of Neil Young and Nick Drake have found much to enjoy. Not only that but the band have performed sessions for stations Reverb Radio and Juice FM – despite their terrible name, they are among the most influential stations in Brighton and Hove. BBC Introducing and Amazing Radio have lined up behind them and Seadog’s live gigs have been celebrated because of the incredible interplay and the aesthetics one sees on stage = they are experimenting with creative visual abilities and incorporating hand-painted super-8 projections into their performances. As I Am is a tasty treat from the band but one wonders: where will they go after they have declared who they are?! It seems like, given the momentum and fans they have amassed, an album or E.P. is not too far away. I alluded to the fact the band have not performed internationally a lot but that has got to be in their mind. Given the kind words by Grandaddy, more on that in a minute, maybe dates in the U.S. and Canada are a realistic proposition. C Duncan is a new fan so he might ask the guys to support him at some London gigs – Grandaddy have already had Seadog support them in Brighton. I can see the guys not only getting some U.S. gigs but carving out a stellar reputation there. Europe seems like a natural source of gigs but there are so many parts of the U.K. the band could conquer. London, as you’d expect, has so many ready venues as do areas like Glasgow and Leeds. I am interested to see how Seadogs tackle the next year and where their music can take them.
I have been discussing how Grandaddy and C Duncan have discovered Seadog’s music and been affected by it. As they have attested; there is an addictive quality and incredible beauty to the music. The much-fabled and mentioned harmonies are highly intoxicating and it seems Seadog will ascend to the mainstream very quickly. It is not the be-all-and-end-all having famous names recommend your music but it is an impressive thing. If you have some great quotes from big musicians on your C.V., it shows it has the potential to big huge and affect musicians who might otherwise be silent. I mooted whether certain artists discover new music and stay quiet. Maybe they are fans of the work but not many take the time to say a few words about it and spread it to the masses. Now that C Duncan has hooked his ears around As I Am; you can imagine some of his fans have joined the Seadog army and might attend their gigs. It would be deserved – were the band to get that increased support – because their quality and appeal is not only reserved to the music. They are meticulous when it comes to updating their website and shoulder a lot of promotion themselves. There are lesser artists who have the luxury of record labels and P.R. companies doing the heavy lifting: Seadog want to remain relatively independent in the sense they can record music they want to and have some control of where they go. Put together a sound that has been spotted by some big music names and an impressive official website and you have a band not only prepared for great success but deserving of it. The guys have made big impressions in Brighton and continue to get some great gigs around the city. Once they play Green Door Store, they will be looking ahead and other gigs they could play. I hope there is a lot more music and performance coming from the East Sussex group.
I’ll end this by returning to the nature of sound, genres and originality. There are a few bands around the world who have the name ‘Seadog’ or ‘The Seadogs’/Sea Dogs’ and, for the most part, they are as you’d imagine: naval-themed and a bit on the comical side – a novelty group who plays music for a very small and limited audience. I opened by wondering whether Seadog’s sound was a little niche and, by virtue of their name, was going to struggle to get mass attention. It only takes a few bars of As I Am to realise that title is appropriate: they stand to attention and do not need to move at all. Esurient fans are willing to follow them anywhere and it seems like there is a huge weight of support behind Seadog. They have those rich and sublime harmonies; incredible songwriting and performances that get inside the head. I am excited to see how they progress and just how large they can grow. At the moment, they are impressing the local crowds and are really starting to hit a peak. With such momentum behind them, it is crystal-clear: the life of Seadog is…
ALL good from here.