Old Sea Brigade’s Motivational Speaking is definitive proof of Robert Frost’s ‘Road Not Taken’. Sure, Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) retreated to my own native Wisconsin, lived in a backwoods cabin and longed For Emma, Forever Ago. But, perhaps, that “road not taken” may have led singer-songwriter introspection to Atlanta, Georgia. Such is the case with multi-instrumentalist Ben Cramer and his Old Sea Brigade nom-de-plume, who created this lovely orchestrated pop-folk (with a slight psych-gothic attitude) album.
The first song, ‘How It Works’, is melodically patient, with a quiet vocal that puffs humanity, while being framed by a big sonic airshow of synths and programmed percussion– with a guitar that cuts through the thick air with razor blade precision. This folk-pop floats on rarified air.
‘Day By Day’ is quick, dramatic, and melodic–like a really nice Al Stewart song, circa Year Of The Cat or Time Passages, or, perhaps, a less dramatic tune from The Dream Academy. Not only that, but more current fans of The War On Drugs will find much to like here. Ben Cramer sings, “Darkness it comes and puts me in place”, which echoes a continuous theme of loss and sad reflection on changes in life. I guess everybody’s Emma Forever is (almost) some sort of Jungian archetype.
Now, it’s just an observation, but ‘Salt’ simply tumbles through the folk-pop-psych musical universe – with big pop sensibility and an incredible bass line—into the catchy confectionery of big radio stuff like the ‘Follow You, Follow Me’, from the (still) good music from Phil fronted Genesis. In truth, I’m card-carrying non-Phil fan, but he, with Mike, and Tony, were no slouches when it came to a friendly melody.
Then the record hits its stride with varied folk pop music that pulses with a melodic heartbeat. ‘Nothing Clever’ is framed by a piano and deep bass, while the vocal confesses its plight, like a nice Bruce Springsteen Nebraska ballad. Indeed, the words reflect on lost love “that was five years ago” and then a dart to the heart reveals (with lovely symbolism!) “when it was nearly spring”. Of course, eerie strings haunt the tune. Then, ‘American Impressions’ is acoustic pop perfection and conjures a West coast vibe from 1968. ‘Caroline’ continues the strummed folk simplicity and catches that Pet Sounds wave, which oddly, what with the heartfelt popularity of the before-mentioned Bon Iver and his Forever Emma, the song may well be “meant for these times”. Indeed (again!), the theme of loss is evident in the lyric that sings, “We’ll disappear through the years”. A bit of Nick Drake there, perhaps. And the clever and catchy music continues with ‘Mirror Man’, which gets big with orchestrated drama, which, thankfully, never loses its folk roots.
It’s just an idea, but the juxtaposition between the ephemeral synth sounds and the much more acoustic pathos of humanity’s melodic funeral bones, may well be the grinding gist of this record.
But truly, Motivational Speaking is all about its melodies. ‘High Time’ rocks a bit with a guitar sound that is still, even after all these years, Botox resistant. Perhaps, (my beloved) Barclay James Harvest, circa Time Honoured Ghosts comes to mind, with their mesh of folk, rock, and ethereal keyboards. Ditto for ‘Walls’, which dives deeply into introspection. This is artistic and pulsing confessional folk- rock music.
Then, ‘Still’ is acoustic pop heaven, again.
As is ‘Come Tomorrow’. The tune simply warps time (like Einstein suggested!) and makes the silent sound of Simon and Garfunkel that’s worthy of time travel.
Let’s face it: Gospel music is eternal. And ‘4th of July’ touches that orbit (with trumpet, clarinet, and sax) and warms collective memories of summer heat, old photos of family picnics, and the melodic smell of very American gunpower after the final firework has graced sadly reflective and, somehow still, patriotic American gothic skies.
I don’t know, perhaps you had to be there. But Old Sea Brigade, with its pop-folk-and whatever music, still manages to wonder about Robert Frost’s ‘Road Not Taken’, yet it’s quite content to dream a very American (and often quite popular) song.
Artist’s website: https://www.oldseabrigade.com/
‘Day By Day’ – official video: