After releasing a number of intriguing and appreciated short publications, American singer-songwriter Ben Cramer, who plays under the moniker of Old Sea Brigade, eventually released his debut full-lenght record, named Ode to a Friend. Despite arriving after four previous EPs, the songs of the new album are all unpublished and the new material shows the capacity that has been developed by Cramer – in just a few years – in defining a style that is quite unique and personal, moving with ease among folk, Americana and ambient soundscapes.
The music in Ode to a Friend is extremely delicate and introspective, and there is a persistent note of sadness that impregnates most of the songs (the record tells of a friend of the artist who committed suicide). The result is a collection of pieces that maybe don’t have the brilliance and fluidity to become memorable songs, but still have the capacity to make us think, and dream.
From a musical point of view, Old Sea Brigade’s new album is characterized by a clear expansion of the sonic palette that has been used by Cramer to craft his songs. Many of the pieces are still built on Cramer’s finger-picked guitar and echo effects, but there are also a few other songs where we can enjoy notes from a distant piano or gentle layers of synths. Everything, however, is contained into a bubble of sound that never explodes. The music of this LP seems always controlled, at times ethereal or whispered. This makes Ode to a Friend an album that’s absolutely poetic and fascinating, something which has the capacity to take us away from the chaos, but which also requires extremely quiet environments in order to be fully appreciated.
A relative defect that I can express about this LP is related to the melodic aspect of the songs. The delicacy of the sounds and the dreamy atmospheres make the music of Ode to a Friend absolutely elegant and enjoyable to hear. In some of the songs, however, we miss a good and “catchy” melody to accompany the suggestive lyrics that are sung by Cramer, and the result is that at times the form seems to take over the substance. Fortunately this occurs only sporadically and there are many good songs that keep high the emotional impact of the record.
Ode to a Friend may be streamed from Spotify.
Highlights: Seen a Ghost, Cigarette and the lead single Hope.
Songs from Ode to a Friend are now featured in CRESTS OF WAVES and MODERN SONGWRITERS, which are two of the playlists that I’m curating on Spotufy. Enjoy!