With the explosion of Britpop influenced, piano pop bands in recent years, Seabird's music may not sound like the most original stuff out there, but familiar as it is, I can't help but like it. There was something so compelling about their acclaimed debut Til We See the Shore that it stood out as one of my favorite albums of 2008 and left me eager to hear more. Their sophomore release, Rocks Into Rivers, doesn't deviate a whole lot from the style they established then, but it doesn't disappoint either, showing some subtle growth while delivering another fun batch of songs.
Their alt-pop sound is rooted in lead singer Aaron Morgan's piano melodies, and brother Ryan's guitar work lends a rock edge without overpowering the ivories. Aaron has a strong, distinctive voice that matches the passion of his signature instrument on every song, whether warm and encouraging on "Don't You Know You're Beautiful," reflective and broken for "This Ain't Home," or rising to dramatic heights on "Rocks Into Rivers." Their music evokes elements of The Fray and early Coldplay, but that doesn't make them a copycat band. Instead, they shape those elements into something that holds its own.
The first half kicks off with the sunny lead single "Don't You Know You're Beautiful," written to encourage a girl dealing with the effects of her parents' divorce. It might seem strange to use a clap-along catchy hook to back such a painful theme, but it works as a feel-good, hopeful song. In fact, these first few songs pass on the darker overtones of their earlier music to show Seabird's brighter side, but the swelling climax of "Sing to Save My Life" and the driving rhythm of "Trust" reminded me of the reasons I loved them in the first place. It also felt entirely safe, familiar, and a lot like a sequel to 'Til We See the Shore... until the second half started, that is.
"This Ain't Home" takes over at the midway point of the album, shifting the music in a new direction and introducing the band's first collaborations with Matt Hales (Aqualung) as producer. This mellow song starts off at a slow burn, Aaron's voice backed by an acoustic guitar, and builds into a full band crescendo before transitioning into a high energy piano melody. "The Sound of You and I" follows, a track that stands out with its lilting tune and minimalist production, even at a short runtime of less than two minutes. Other highlights are "Finally Done Right," an interesting lyrical tribute to Michael Jackson, and the strong closer "Rocks Into Rivers." The darker drama of the title track recalls some of the raw power of "Cottonmouth (Jargon)" and is one of the best songs of Seabird's career.
On my first few listens, I thought this was going to be just like the first album, and even almost wrote it off as a possible sophomore slump. But first impressions can be deceiving; a few more listens revealed a mature progression, one of those albums that takes its time to breathe and grow on the listener. Sure, it recalls traces of a bunch of other piano-driven acts, but Rocks Into Rivers has enough charm and style of its own to make this an enjoyable second offering from Seabird.- PReview date: 11/22/09; Review date: 12/13/09, written by Jen Rose of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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