Hidden beneath universities and other schools of higher education across the land, there is a pulse that breathes life into long nights, restlessness and feeling like no one understands you. It is a bloodline that, regardless of supposed rivalries or distance, is the common ground for many aspiring individuals.
Before you crucify me for so shamelessly throwing out the term “College Rock,” hear me out.
Beginning with the noblest intentions, “College Rock” described The Smiths and R.E.M., to name a few. Somewhere in between then and now it was replaced with Droz and Gutter trying to bring the Causeheads together and inexplicably, Dave Matthews.
Today, the sound lives on. Not in the dude-guy, refusing to grow up, playing slap-ass while listening to Crash on loop; instead, the heartbeat is strong and living In Basements.
In all fairness, Patrick, Payton, Jordan, Vivek and Jon, under the guise of The Sea Life, compile a very West-Coast-Indie-Rock sound rather than the generic “College Rock.” But their conveyance of such a fresh, advantageous style does not belong in such an oversaturated classification like “Indie Rock;” that, and the idealist in me hopes that this is the future of “College Rock.”
The Sea Life calls themselves simply “Nostalgia” and oddly enough, strike precisely that chord. The quintet, who call the Maryland/DC area home, craft a black hole of melodic precision encompassed in dreamy waves of airy instrumentals that ebb on distortion and flow on keys.
Recorded, quite literally, in basements, the ten track record is an instant favorite. The entire course of In Basements lingers on you like a dream. “Shoot Me Down,” a masterfully beautiful ballad, is that moment you close your eyes and fall helplessly into the darkness. “Coin Machine” and “Sex Appeal, Pt. 1” echo in your subconscious as you float through the endless reaches of your imagination. And like the crash back down to reality, the final track, “Uh Oh No,” wakes you up with a three and a half minute Malkovichian tunnel of unknowing, obscured reality as you’re thrust back into your own, is played out on eclectic synth/rock. Throughout, The Sea Life portrays the educated brother of Cage The Elephant who opted to read Tobias Wolff and Tolstoy, rather than sit in a bar getting high. Vocally dynamic with some great harmonies, the culmination of their lyrics stream out in a passionate angst, without ever becoming whiny.
Beneath the bubble of pop-culture lies an impressive style often unseen by the world. In the past, a few lucky ones have climbed from beneath the behemoth of ego and purposeful, kempt “uncaring” façade. They left in their wake a “College Rock” moniker of uncertainty and over-population. Well with the help of a sound like The Sea Life, it can once again become an honorable sound. Who knows, perhaps it could be redefined once more. Whatever the future brings, we need to get these gents out of the Basement and into the light.
Do you have one of those albums in your library? You know, where you’re casually perusing your collection and you stop at it, wholly perplexed. You look at the cover, the band name, and you think: “I know I like these guys,” but you can’t recall a single song they do.
Every time I put on In Basements by The Sea Life, I am swept up by how much I enjoy it. The band’s blending of fuzz rock with dreamy off-tempo tracks creates a warm fuzzy dream blanket that I can curl up in for hours at a time. They can be heady and hooky which lends itself to the smart crowd while being accessible. I think this every time I listen to the album, and then when the album ends, I have a moment like I just encountered a Silent. I pause, shrug and move on with my life like the last 32 minutes never occurred.
I am sure this is not The Sea Life’s intention; I am sure they would have liked to have created something of permanency, but it just does not stick with me past the immediate experience. This is frustrating for me, because I want to have a conversation with people where I say: “You know who is great? The Sea Life.” The problem is that if someone asks what they do, I turn into Kristen Wiig and Will Farrell from the Golden Globes. To remedy this, I am listening to the album while I write, and it seems to be working.
Categorically, the album is a mess. It is a beautiful mess, but it is disorganized. This may be part of the problem with my brain wrapping around it in a long-term fashion; the tone jumps so much my attention cannot settle on any particular moment. The sound bounces between fuzz-rock, lo-fi, surf rock, with elements of prog rock and classic rock just for good measure.
Between watery guitar interludes, purring bass, and dialed back vocals, there are the briefest moments of clarity and beauty that make you stop and force you to pay attention. But then the moment is gone and the band is experimenting with another sound, and you have to wait for another moment: the grandness of instrumental sound in “Magic Weapon,” the perfection of capturing disappointment in stating “well shit…” (in response to a girl having a boyfriend) in “Sleep,” putting in those little ditties and distorted riffs in the bright “The Collector,” the extended rests in “Uh Oh No,” just to name a few.
Maybe you’ll have a different experience with The Sea Life. Maybe they will resonate more with you than they did with me. Maybe I have the attention span of a goldfish. Either way, I enjoy the time I spend with In Basements. I keep it close so that it is difficult to forget.