Editor's note: Doug McGrath is a music contributor with four decades of experience as a member of the Dallas music community. This week, he reviews a new EP from Dallas band Sealion.
Band name: Sealion
Album: Nothing Nowhere EP (2018, Dreamy Life Records), released June 1, 2018
Rating: 3 out of 4
One line: Dallas pop-punk-surf-psych quartet releases 4-song EP.
Review: Over the last seven years, Sealion has earned a spot as one of Dallas' most versatile and entertaining bands, regularly crossing genres to shares stages with a variety of national artists.
The quartet is frequently slotted as a punk band, and punk does contribute to their DNA. But part of their genius is that they blend in other genres such as pop, psych rock, and rockabilly, with elements of all of these styles melted into their sound.
I got to know the band when we both rehearsed in the same building. One of the fun things about rented rehearsal spaces is that you get exposed to a variety of bands, playing loud, late at night, and all at the same time.
Such was the case several years ago when one of my bands had a room at Bishop Manor Rehearsal, a popular rehearsal space a few blocks from the heart of Deep Ellum. Sealion rehearsed about 30 feet away from my space.
Our bands could not have been more different, but during breaks, I would talk with Sealion guitarists Hunter Moehring and Cole Denton, usually about guitars.
On Nothing Nowhere, the band serves up four perky new tracks, rallying around two standouts: the stomping opener, "Catahoula," and an addictive single called "Break My Bones," featuring bassist Sam Villavert on vocals.
"Break My Bones" has a strong '80s vibe, with quirky drums and guitars. The first time I heard it, it had me thinking of Pixies and The B-52's. The title is even reminiscent of a Pixies chorus: "Break my body, hold my bones" ("Break My Body," from the 1988 album Surfer Rosa). There's also a bit of Pixies' Kim Deal (who, like Sam, also played bass) in Sam's vocals on the chorus.
On Sealion's previous full-length, 2014's Heavy Fizz, vocals were primarily handled by Moehring, with Villavert contributing two lead vocals and one duet with Moehring. Two numbers on Heavy Fizz broke from the band's typically frenetic surf rock formula. And, as on the new EP, the biggest departure also featured vocals by Villavert.
It's good to see another more downtempo track on Nothing Nowhere, with "Break My Bones" providing a change of pace to the upbeat, surfy psych sound they've established over their previous LPs and singles.
"Catahoula" is a bombastic party anthem with curious lyrics: "I don't want to die for a fight that isn't mine" and "foaming at the mouth," capped off by a chant at the end: "Gone, all gone, all gone, all gone." As with a lot of Sealion songs, I kind of can't understand a lot of the lyrics, but lyrics are not really the point of this track. It’s a fun, simply structured opener that kicks over an amp or two as it kickstarts the EP.
"Nobody Goes There Anymore" and "Sleep" are psychedelic surf rock, with guitars that noodle, twang, and crescendo in distortion. Drummer Gus Baldwin, who joined in early 2017, provides a youthful energy that drives the rest of the band through the many twists and dives of its live set. Sealion's live shows are a lot of fun, making it easy to see why they've drawn a following of more than 3,000 fans on Facebook.
The four songs on Nothing Nowhere are a good, if small, evolutionary step, with the band sounding more confident and better-produced. There's more on the way: The band is going into the studio in late June to begin recording a new full length.
You can see them perform on June 2 at Three Links with Peach Kelli Pop and Fishboy.