REVIEW: Sea Ghost - SG

Laura Kerry

If you’ve heard of Marietta, Georgia-based Sea Ghost, odds are that you went to their high school, follow iLoveMakonnen on Twitter, or read this article last year. Sea Ghost earned early buzz in 2014, when they sent their only two recorded songs to the rapper known for “club goin’ up on a Tuesday,” who, sensing promise in the teenage band, showed up at the basement studio in lead singer Carter Sutherland’s parents’ house with a crew from The FADER. The collaboration produced the song “Running Away” and a heavy sense of anticipation for the young band.

Origin stories like that can be risky. Those charmingly eccentric details—the unfinished basement studio, the unlikely pairing of musicians—tend to skew expectations. On the one hand, they’ve already whetted the appetite of big music blogs, but on the other, they’re measured against the fact of their youth. Now, a full year later, Sea Ghost’s first album has made those expectations irrelevant. SG is a spectacular debut, and not in spite of age or because of hype.

Sutherland and bandmates Brandon Chester (guitar), Jay Harris (bass), and Jonathan Morningstar (drums) have created fully-realized fuzzy rock that sounds like it was conceived in a dusty garage but polished in a shiny studio. Awash in distorted guitars, propulsive drums, and a light touch of reverb and bell sounds, SG strikes a balance between exuberant noise and tight focus, the perpetually youthful yearning of DIY garage rock, and a sophisticated confidence.

Poised at the center of that balance is Sutherland’s singing. Nasal and a little gravelly, his voice’s strength derives from what sounds like its flaws. But it’s clear that he’s adept at controlling those flaws: the high yelp in “Cowboy Hat,” the quivering drop at the end of “I don’t want to cry with you” in "Cave Song,” and the thinning out of the high notes on “Goldfish”—all of the imperfections are just flourishes that heighten the sense of sincerity throughout the album. And sincere it is. “I’ll cut a rug and burn my lungs / I’ll fall in love with anyone / I want to know your emptiness,” Sutherland sings on “BBQ,” exemplifying the aching feeling that carries through the album, but expressing it with enough gracefulness to keep it from a syrupy or whiny territory.

Another large part of what bars SG from those pitfalls is the joyful tenor that emerges despite its through line of youthful dissatisfaction. At its core, the album is energetic, slightly offbeat, and exceedingly pleasurable indie rock that delivers hugely on whatever promise iLoveMakonnen saw in two of Sea Ghost’s early tracks. As they emerge from their parents’ basements, expectations have been raised once again.