Wavewulf “The North and the Sea” album review by LA Weekly

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Dreamt up by New York City area (New Jersey) musician Nicholas Long (aka Wavewulf), “The North and the Sea” is a concept album based around an arctic/sea/Scandinavian theme. The impetus for the album came about during Long’s trip to Iceland in the autumn of 2021. While there, he found himself thinking about the power of the sea, of water, and other geological forces that make Iceland’s exotic landscape exist. Before the trip, he had been feeling claustrophobic and disconnected from people. Long says that the trip gave him a feeling of freedom – freedom to move, freedom to see, and freedom to connect. In addition, Long says that direction has always been important to him; maps, latitude, longitude, where one IS in the world. Reflecting on the album name, Wavewulf explains that “The North” is a metaphor for truth and “The Sea” signifies freedom.

The album not only encompasses an overriding theme drawing from the energy of Scandinavia and the Arctic seas, it expands on Wavewulf’s musical palette from previous albums with a collection of songs that oscillate between evocative electronic instrumentals and moodier synth-pop tunes. Careful (stereo headphone) listening helps bring out the finer details of this lush retro-modern-futuristic album.

“The North and the Sea” also sees a number of collaborations that enabled Wavewulf’s vision to be brought to life. These include Nala Spark’s evocative vocal talents and, longtime Wavewulf collaborator, Christopher John Donato, who alternates between drums, guitar and vocals on a number of tracks. The album also features Maxx Silver and Pulse Lab (aka Dasha Larks) – both who have also released music on Wavewulf’s label State of Bass Records, UK.

‘Luft’, which was the first single from the album, is a fascinating contrast of styles with Long’s smoothly rendered analogue synth tones meshing with Nala Spark’s strangely mesmerizing vocals. There’s a melancholic aspect to this song as well, while also embodying an uplifting vibe which managed to seep deep into us here at LA Weekly.

Then there is the even more melancholic and percussive mood of ‘New Amsterdam’, with an earthy vocal from Donato. The album switches gear with the lush ‘The Power of Water’, which offers some lounge pop sensibilities – and showcases Spark’s sterling vocals.

‘Understand Me’ brings in Martin James (Nostalgia Deathstar) on vocal duties for a number that throws a nod to coldwave with its synth noir trappings. It’s a track that serves as a protest song (“I detest corporate society/I can’t stand any more of this cruelty”) ably supported by some Kraftwerkian-style synths.

Martin James returns on the dramatic synth moods of ‘Through the Wires’. Here, burbling synths battle with angular percussion and crunchy electronic effects. There’s a disconcerting aspect to this outing, while James’ vocal has a raw, and somewhat disconnected quality.

‘The Sea and the Glacier’ again features Donato’s driving percussion, which gives the composition a grungy boldness. Maxx Silver delivers whispery, ethereal vocals washed in reverb and delay. The end result is a watery atmosphere that does a fine job tracking closely to the album’s seascape theme.

Meanwhile, ‘Permafrost’, featuring Finland electronic artist Pulse Lab, is a profound number with a starker quality. In contrast, ‘Lights Across the Sky’ serves up a charming and lo-fi ambient synth number with Nala Spark’s lyrical musings taking on a sense of loneliness and fragility. ‘Serenade’ is a cracking track with a rockier sound, a trip-hopish bassline and drums, and Spark’s almost spoken-word vocals; it’s arguably the album’s high water mark.

Elsewhere, the melancholic ‘Scandinavian Nights’ provides a compelling slice of self-reflection for the album’s final third. Matt Jensen’s vocals have a powerful austerity to them, while the brooding synths and dampened percussion enhance the tracks mournful mood.

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Scattered across the album, there’s a selection of instrumental compositions, such as the dreamlike and somewhat acid-house ‘Predator’, the burbling whimsy of ‘Spirits of the Desert’, the more jammy sounding “Galloping Through Fields of Lavender” and the gorgeous final track “The Great Expanse”. These compositions provide interesting interludes that invite the listener to pause and reflect on the albums deeper meaning.

In terms of production, Wavewulf used hardware synthesizers and drum-machines (mostly analogue, many vintage), which give the album a warmth, wonkiness and personality that is not quite possible when using only software. Adding to this warmth is Jason Weinheimer’s mix, completed using mostly vintage equipment. This makes the album feel more “human” even though it is, in many respects, a very electronic album.

It’s difficult to categorize “The North and the Sea” in terms of genre as Wavewulf seems to evade the normal labels of electronic music. In essence, the airy and atmospheric approach to the music here suggests a kind of ‘Pop Boards of Canada’. In any case, Wavewulf deserves further investigation for both the discerning electronic music listener as well as those not as familiar with the genre. We at LA Weekly also highly recommend “The North and the Sea” for its tantalizing sound and uniqueness.

“The North and the Sea” is out now on State of Bass Records, UK, pick it up here: www.wavewulf.com or here: www.wavewulf.bandcamp.com.

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