The Silver Seas 2010 album ‘Chateau Revenge!’ not only raised the bar in terms of what they were capable as a band, but the release also came with a strong sense of cult adoration, with the UK’s Danny Baker becoming one of the band’s most outspoken supporters. For those who were there, the band’s September 2011 performance in front of a select but fiercely loyal London crowd – just prior to an appearance on the BBC’s prestigious ‘Later…With Jools Holland’- remains something of a watershed moment. Riding the wave further and coming up with an album that was not only equal, but better than ‘Chateau Revenge!’ was always going to be tough. So, like Fleetwood Mac following the hugely palatable ‘Rumours’ with the over indulgent ‘Tusk’, with 2013’s ‘Alaska’, The Silver Seas have wisely chosen not to try and top previous achievements, but instead take a side-step and – at lease on the surface – offer their loyal fans something different. …But fear not, it’s not so different…at least not in a frankly paranoid, coked-out and bonkers ‘Tusk’ sense.
According to Silver Seas frontman Daniel Tashian, these songs are “about distance. Distance between places, between people, between ideas.” So, what does this mean for the rest of us? It means ‘Alaska’ is a journey of sorts, reminding us of places we’ve seen; of people we know and have known. To counterbalance these reflective themes, the band’s music has become a little more laid back too – among the album’s ten musical landscapes and stories, there’s a reasonable amount of banjo where there would have once been a seventies style electric piano. Also, as a logical extension of the ‘Chateau Revenge’ blue counterpart, acoustic guitar plays a larger part in the overall sound than on either ‘Chateau’ (red) or ‘High Society’. ‘Alaska’ presents a largely laid back trip of rootsy, occasionally Josh Rouse-esque music, but at the centre remains Tashian’s gift for a melodic vocal line and enduring friendliness.
The title cut kicks things off in classic AM radio style. With barely a couple of notes passed, Tashian breaks into a harmonious vocal, pitching his own lead voice against acoustic strums, a fairly dominant banjo (played by Joe Pisapia; also in charge of twiddling the knobs this time out), with everything underpinned by a solid John McVie-esque bass part (also played by Pisapia). Although some of the musical parts are overdubbed, the band has managed to retain a terrific live in the studio sound – one that really brings the material to life. With ‘I’m The One’, a little more of the “traditional” Silver Seas sound comes through. On this upbeat pop tune, Daniel Tashian’s regular collaborator Jason Lehning takes more of the musical lead, with his sharp piano parts occasionally piercing through a seventies pop arrangement, with Tashian’s voice adopting a very naturalistic tone. Everything you loved about ‘Chateau Revenge!’ is contained within these near four minutes, with each of the musicians sounding particularly sparky. This opening duo encapsulates both of ‘Alaska’s main musical moods; if you dig either (or both) of these tunes, the rest of the record proves to be equally entertaining. It may all take a little longer to register than some of The Silver Seas’ prior works, but eventually, it all unfolds to present a mature and sophisticated set of songs.
‘As The Crow Flies’ – an instant attention grabber – captures some of this album’s alt-country leanings most effectively. With the banjo leading the way, the rest of the band settle into a laid-back groove, part back-porch, part desert wandering. The simple acoustic strains are bolstered by another warm bass and while the vocal gives this away as being a Tashian-related work, the overriding mood is straight from the early 70s, with more than a hint of America, or even Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’… Whichever influences you wish to pin on it, it sounds like gold standard radio filler from days of old. From another era of pop’s past,‘ Roxy’(a co-write with Josh Rouse) rumbles along at a happy mid-pace. A tale of love lost in Camden Town, the musical structure sounds a tad Fleetwood-esque (if you’re gonna be inspired, be inspired by the best!). While it brings nothing really new to The Silver Seas repertoire, long-standing fans are likely to fall in love with this tune before long.
While ‘Roxy’ plays to tried and tested musical formulas, ‘Sea of Regret’ brings a whole new strand to the ever-growing Silver Seas sound. A rhythmically hard number, it finds Tashian’s vocal sounding a little lost between hard sounding drums and a near equally hard and clanky piano. While it takes a few plays before all the pieces fit – and indeed, before the song starts to become memorable – it’s more about expanding the band’s horizons, much like Lindsey Buckingham had on Fleetwood’s ‘Tusk’. It’s likely that, for some, this will always be seen as the oddity within ‘Alaska’s mostly fine-tuned offerings, but it’s also important for the band to experiment.
Elsewhere on this all too brief road trip [the album clocks in at an old fashioned, vinyl friendly 37 minutes], you’ll hear more classic Americana within ‘Wolfie’, a tune with another rock solid bass line, this time augmented by some very tasteful steel guitar, while the jaunty ‘Night On The Town’ recalls the upbeat strands of ‘High Society’. With a mix of chiming guitars, carefree chorus and tinkling percussion, the latter is classic Silver Seas and tailor-made for the live set. Handclaps (as per ‘The Country Life’) do not have a place here, but there’s a short but precise guitar break lending a sense of urgency. Each tackles the subject of fledgling relationships: ‘A Night On The Town’ was inspired by looking for a partner, while ‘Wolfie’ explores the idea of giving important advice on life to a newborn child.
Since its style is often very different, ‘Alaska’ may not always be as instantly thrilling as ‘Chateau Revenge!’, but the gently recurring themes of travel and exploration – both in the geographical and emotional sense – somehow make it a more rounded affair, where the lyrics are almost more important than any of the music. The stories somehow relate to all of us at some point in time. Stick with it; the journey is worth taking – and maybe like Neil Young’s similarly rootsy ‘Comes a Time’, the less obvious moments will find their feet somewhere down the road.