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Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Eastern Sea: "The Eastern Sea" EP

Matthew Hines has been writing and recording as The Eastern Sea for a few years.  More often than not, these recordings have been solo outings uploaded to a website or a MySpace page.  For this debut EP, Hines brought some friends along to form a band under the Eastern Sea name.  The added members - Thomas Garcia-Olano (Bass), Jess Graves (Keys), and Zach Duran (Drums) - predictably add a new depth to the music that has been missing in the past.  But does the fleshed-out instrumentation ruin the quirky, honest music that fans have come to expect from The Eastern Sea?

The quirkiness, yes, but the songs on this EP are just a earnest and heartfelt as they have always been.  If anything, the new members of the band have given the music a maturity that has always been absent.   "The Night" is classic Hines, with simple lyrics that mask their inner greatness.  He sings, "When you're in my bed/ it looks like you're dead/ but I'm too scared you'll run/ so I won't call 911," and although the line is catchy and simple, it portrays Matthew's insecurity beautifully.  The song begins with a simple jingle bell solo, but builds throughout its runtime.  It never explodes into some sort of cliche breakdown, opting instead to keep things rather simple and straightforward.
"The Menu" follows in much the same way.  It sounds as if Matthew is singing about a normal day in the city, wandering around and just taking things in.  He sings of a restaurant, a university, and a place that sells moonshine "cheap as hell," and the lyrics are so vivid that it's almost as if you're right there with him.  On "The Floor," the band departs from the Death Cab-ish roads they've traversed thus far.  It is a much darker song, about a night on the town with friends.  It's slow, plodding movements are accentuated by Duran and Graves' heavily-reverbed instrumentation.  Here, Matthew sings, "All of the lights/ seem out out of sync/ but they'll move in time/ we'll step to the beat/ the more that I drink."  The song feels as if its brooding, plotting something sinister, yet great.  Sure enough, at the 2:40 mark the band explodes into pure rock awesomeness before quickly bringing things back down to a reasonable volume.  In all honesty, it sounds a lot like Built to Spill.  Hines, himself, even bears a striking resemblance to Doug Martsch (both vocally and in beard-ness).

"The Snow" finds the band toning things back down, with an airy composition and thick vocal harmonies.  The song tends to get a bit repetitive, but its lyrics make it a worthy addition to the EP.  The song's opening line, is undoubted the best, reading, "I hope that the doctors in your town/ can give you the pills that you crave/ I hope they teach your mind how to behave/ and I hope that Jesus still saves."  Matthew's vocals are naturally a bit thin and boyish, and this tends to be an issue later in the song as it has trouble standing out amongst the dense instrumentation.  The EP's closing track, "This is Holborn" is my absolute favorite; an upbeat, and hopeful indie rock song  that will melt any heart by the time the final second ticks off the clock.  The transition into the song's coda is a bit weak, but I'm far too busy smiling and bouncing my head around to care.  I'm almost positive that the hand claps and sing along vocals will have the exact same effect on everyone else who listens to it as well.

Overall, The Eastern Sea EP is a very impressive debut from Matthew Hines and his bandmates.  Having been familiar with Hines' solo work, I was expecting something completely different the first time I popped the album into my CD player.  The quirky, sometimes electronics-laden compositions of The Eastern Sea's past have been replaced by three very talented musicians who have added so much depth and complexity to the group's sound that it really does sound like a completely different project (The Western Sea?).  Perhaps the most-surprising feature of the EP is that it feels like a complete, well-rounded work of art while many other EPs are excuses to shovel an artist's best songs on to a CD.  The Eastern Sea has distinct feel and a tangible resolution, making it play more like a mini-album than anything else.  Knowing that this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for the band is almost as exciting as listening to them play and certainly leaves me wanting to hear more.  Please, make more.

Recommended for fans of Death Cab for Cutie, Owen, Built to Spill, and The National.

Key Tracks:
1. "The Night"
2. "The Floor"
3. "This is Holborn"

8 out of 10 Stars

1 comment:

Trev said...

I go to school with this guy, so I get to hear his stuff pretty often.

It's much better live, but still pretty fantastic in EP form.