For a lot of musicians, the songwriting process can be long and full of wrong turns. Notebooks full of ideas sometimes never even make it onto a record. There are those few satisfying moments, however, where the melody or the next phrase just falls right into place, and the song seems to start writing itself.
The Silent Sea, a quintet from Perth, Western Australia, sounds like it hits those songwriting epiphanies often. On Blackwood, the group’s debut EP, the five tracks sound like they sprung fully-formed from the practice room. That’s not to say the record sounds hastily constructed, but that it’s hard to imagine these tracks with any fewer or any more embellishments. This kind of completeness is rare to see on a first release, so kudos to the group for that particular accomplishment.
As far as the style goes, the band’s own suggestion of alternative rock seems to fit. Though that specific genre has a checkered past of grumbly post-Vedder frontmen and chugging guitars, lots of ‘90s alternative acts also brought sprightly and ethereal qualities to their music, and The Silent Sea slots easily in with that crowd. Light and shade were aspects the band sought to cultivate on Blackwood, and it mostly hits the mark. Tension and release are effective songwriting techniques when employed correctly, and Blackwood dutifully employs them at precise intervals.
Opener “Not the Same” evokes R.E.M. in its first half, especially in the full-throated vocal delivery. The driving rhythm lets up about two-thirds in for a plaintive bridge section led by acoustic guitar, ultimately giving way to a guitar solo for the rest of the track. Though I would have enjoyed the indulgence of a guitar god moment there, the quiet-to-loud sequence in the midsection was a demonstration of a strong understanding of rock music composition. This understanding forms the backbone of Blackwood, and is its strong point throughout.
“Another Day” is actually quite the outlier on the EP. The verse part is built around Police-like syncopated guitar, while the chorus has a burlier rock stomp to it. Heavily effected guitar carries the song into a slower jam section, while the drum part is filtered in a trip-hop fashion. We also hear the drummer and bassist’s horn chops in action, as they pull double duty in the studio. While much of Blackwood runs on fairly standard rock sounds, “Another Day” offers a peek at what’s up The Silent Sea’s sleeve. I would have loved to hear more of that experimental production tendency throughout.
I’m reluctant to call it a power ballad, but “Mind in Motion” has a more subdued energy, leaving the loud-quiet-loud formula alone for a moment. Developing the atmospherics around one main pattern, and gradually introducing horns and more bite, the band backs off their usual all-out conclusion for something subtler. It does shake things up nicely, and really underscores that light and shade concept that carries through Blackwood.
The album closer “Protector” is really where The Silent Sea shows its arena-ready side. If you’re a sucker for anthems to wave a lighter to, “Protector” is really going to drive Blackwood home for you. It reminded me of Ride’s part-shoegaze-part-Britpop melange, as the guitars were lush and gorgeous, but did not drown the emotional thrust of the rhythm section. It’s easy to descend into cheesy cliches in this type of song, but the band steered clear of that and delivered a sincere closing statement.
It’s easy to imagine Blackwood’s songs extending into hazy jam-outs, but fortunately The Silent Sea kept the record tight and foregrounded its best quality— a grasp of rock dynamics that could make many bands jealous. With only a little more of the boundary-pushing elements the EP offers glimpses of, the band will elevate a good debut to a great (and hopefully long) future.
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