There’s a moment on “Cowboy Mouth,” the maniacally infectious, pleasantly exhilarating lead track on Sea Ghost’s debut LP, SG, where frontman Carter Sutherland’s voice suddenly cracks into a high-pitched yelp. It’s a fleeting instance, but one that a lot of bands would’ve regarded as a mistake and taken steps to fix. With Sea Ghost, however, the flaw, if it could be labeled as such, is not only endearing, it also stands out as a point of reference, a marker to watch out for in a song that always seems to pass by much too quickly. Whether it was accidental or intentional, really isn’t the issue. The point is there’s a genuine realness there, and the band proves savvy enough to understand that authenticity will trump recorded perfection every time.
At its heart, SG is very much a DIY affair filled with small hiccups and tiny blemishes that somehow make their songs feel more accessible and human. It’s a record steeped in reverb and autumnal verve, which would seem to place it in line with a host of lo-fi Atlanta/Athens acts seeking to ape the mid-to-late oughts magic of Deerhunter or of Montreal’s woozy psychedelic pop. The album’s nine tracks were recorded by the band over the course of several months in Sutherland’s basement studio. But rather than undertaking the mixing process on their own, the band wisely (savvily?) handed over the duties to Ariel Silva, a.k.a. SenseiATL, a sometimes Awful Records collaborator who has worked with the likes of LuiDiamonds and Turls. For all of SG‘s homespun charm and the band’s mostly contemporary rock stylings, under Silva’s guiding hand this record just floats. However, the spectral haze it casts doesn’t arrive under the guise of some faded photograph nostalgia like so many other records and artists; it’s more the fog that comes with the what-will-the-future-bring terror of our times. That existential fear, coupled with the elation and uncertainty of chasing one’s dreams, is the binding glue that holds the record together.
In that melancholic light, tracks like “BBQ” and “Spokes” battle back and forth between themes of unconquerable youth and the numbing power of excess where everything is here to be sampled and devoured, chewed up and spit out because, well, nothing has meaning and it’s all ephemeral anyway. “I want to know that empty space / I want to share some faded grace / I want to find some emptiness / I’ll cut a rug and burn my lungs / I’ll fall in love with anyone / I want to know your emptiness / I still don’t really care” Sutherland sings/pleads/laments over “BBQ”‘s scattershot beat and soft bed of swirling guitars. He has enough forethought to understand his enviable position as one unburdened by the weight of lifelong regrets and the consequences of youthful indiscretions. And yet there’s no denying the void that lurks forever in the periphery.
If all this sounds like an incredible downer, do not fear. Yes, these songs require thoughtful consideration, but there’s an undeniable undercurrent of exuberance that permeates almost every portion of SG. It’s remarkable how fleshed out and full-bodied these songs are. In my cynicism I kept waiting for the dull turn, the misstep into mediocrity. But there’s nothing of the sort. There’s no fumbling about, just nine immaculately crafted songs that seethe and pulse with warm-blooded vigor.
Sea Ghost will celebrate the release of SG tomorrow night, October 24, at WonderRoot. Also performing will be Pretty Boy, GAHM, and Benny Jetts. Doors open at 9 p.m. $5 gets you in.