The Eastern Sea - Plague
Record Label: WhiteLab BlackLab
Release Date: June 26, 2012
What began as a bedroom project in Austin, TX in 2005, has now morphed into something truly transcendent. Singer-songwriter Matthew Philip Hines began The Eastern Sea as just a way to let loose narratives in his head. Those scattered thoughts have now become Plague, the quintet's first full-length album. In eleven songs, Hines and crew channel indie folk rock with aplomb.
Whether he's romanticizing a walk in a graveyard ("Central Cemetery") or ruminating about his hometown ("Plague") there's something deeply entrancing and wholly inviting about his musical output. Blessed with a keen eye for detail, Hines writes lyrics as if they were novellas and backs his songs with a cadre of sounds. "A Lie," is buzzy and encompassing, while "The Match," is first-rate jangle folk pop that builds towards rousing chamber-pop by the time it's finished. "Say Yes," is hazy and horn-laden and draws on an organ to anchor his feathery, layered vocals.
Similarly, "Wasn't for Love," employs bells, a xylophone, and calculated drums to make for an airy mid-tempo track that is ringing and affecting. If Plague is to have a single it might be "Santa Rosa," which is drum-heavy and buzzing before turning placid and pensive towards the end. What also makes "Santa Rosa," so indelible is that its successor "America," actually serves as the song's two-minute outro. "China Untitled One," feels very much like "The Match," and "There You Are," allows Hines' vocals to do all the work. While on many records this would most likely be a filler track, on Plague, it is anything but.
But for all the winning moments on Plague, few are stronger than the understated simplicity of "So Long, Either Way," a gorgeous meditation on indecision and navigating heartbreak's cavernous terrain. And it is there that Plague makes so much sense. Come to think of it, there may not be a better indie folk record that's come across this reviewer's desk.