This one has building for a while. Atlanta-raised, Nashville-based Ben Cramer, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist performs under the moniker Old Sea Brigade and is releasing is first full-length album, having issued a few singles and videos to high acclaim this past summer and fall, notably “Hope” and “Feel You.” The song “Tidal Wave” from his EP Cover My Own, quickly crossed the three-million-mark on Spotify.
Produced by Jeremy Griffith,(who also produced his EP) the 11 tracks on Ode To A Friend ring with Americana, indie, rock, and ambient soundscapes, but ultimately feel like ethereal, psychedelic cinema or impressionistic paintings. The album’s title and closing track was inspired by Cramer’s sudden loss of a best friend to suicide. “I came up with the lyrics to ‘Ode To A Friend’ right after he passed. I didn’t want a normal structure. It’s almost like an interlude to tie up the album dedicated to him. He was always such a big proponent and fan of my songs. He encouraged me to move towards a solo career. The title made sense. I finally felt vulnerable enough to put out music that was close to me.”
During 2017 Cramer retreated to Griffith’s Florida studio, using analog synths and a “squeaky, old and out-of-tune piano that you’d never find a music store – but gave sound a character.” He combined this approach with lots of production ideas gleaned from working with many Nashville artists. To this writer the ambience and cinematic effect lies somewhere between Israel Nash albeit quieter, and The Pines, neither of whom record in Nashville. Cramer (Old Sea Brigade’s) doesn’t use a wide array of instruments and keeps many arrangements spare and simple, using the synths and other production techniques to decorate these songs with rich lushness.
>He wrote “Hope” at a friend’s Laurel Canyon home. The song is about honesty as he begins over a finger-picked acoustic guitar, “I want to feel hope when I die, so I know what I left behind.” The song “Feel You” feeds off that “old piano” and his vocal is deeper, on the gravelly side before building into the higher register in a slight crescendo that gives way to a simple electric guitar break before it fades. He describes it as having multiple meanings. “it could be like a bad relationship, or it could be something else, depending on your experience.”
The airy “Seen a Ghost” appropriately has as much an ethereal quality as any track while “Cigarette” is another one that features strong acoustic guitar picking and layered vocals. The title track, clocking in at barely over two minutes, is the closer. It feels like an instrumental until you hear his heartbreaking vocal mid-section that feels raw and suitably in the mournful mode.
This is a quiet, meditative work that demands full attention. It is so carefully rendered that it gives you many lyrical and musical elements to focus on, some that only become apparent with repeated listens. He’s right, though. The out-of-tune piano seems to hold it together thematically. Cramer says, “I’d love for someone who is listening to feel like this is different and new, but also realize the vulnerability of the music. That’s something I’ve struggled with in the past. This record is my leap of faith to express music in the truest way I can. I want to keep doing that.”
Let yourself go. Old Sea Brigade’s sound is haunting, captivating, and ultimately beautiful.