The Baltic sea

The Baltic sea

Contemporary Arts Center
Friday – Sep 25 – 11:30

the baltic sea A review of The Baltic Sea / Through Scenic Heights and Days Regrets (2008) @ by: Ben Hoffman

Making Portland shine that much brighter...

As a reviewer, there is nothing more gratifying than strapping on my favorite pair of headphones and enjoying an album front to back, with no hesitation or second thoughts about finishing a track. The Baltic Sea’s Through Scenic Heights and Days Regrets is a powerful debut album that does just that.

Through Scenic Heights… was self-produced, and if you know anything about today’s usual post-rock/atmospheric formula, you can tell that the band’s production qualities stand tall above most. From delicate to destructive is a general theme for the album and is very apparent in songs like “The Everyday Separation” and “Cry Aloud…Then Explain.” The album as a whole contains flawless and unexpected transitions, tasteful panning, a through-composed feel, and self-recorded samples that are blended in beautifully to create unusual textures (a typewriter, a girl speaking French, a discussion about an artist on the closing track).

Vocalist and guitarist Todd Hutchisen boasts a very stressed vocal tone, but somehow it becomes warm and inviting by the end of the album. His singing is versatile however, and on “Cry Aloud…,” there is a four line part that is reminiscent of a lullaby. Following this lullaby, the next vocal entry is perhaps the most anthem-like chorus of the album. Hutchisen definitely gives The Baltic Sea a unique sound, but in no way shadows the instrumentation of the album.

The instrumentation of the album, consisting of guitarists Hutchisen and Ray Suhy, drummer Jason Ingalls, and bass player Jeremy Smith, almost convinces me that the band could release an instrumental version of Through Scenic Heights..., as the album needs a few listens to catch all the nuances (the band does sneak in one instrumental interlude). The guitars tastefully use double picking over acoustics and play around with chord changes and textures in fairy-tale fashions. The bass stays solid, yet moments in songs like “No Heart March,” where the bass copies the initial vocal melody underneath a sea of guitars, Smith forces you to go back and listen for the bass in the rest of the songs. Ingalls’ drumming style convinces me of a possible jazz background, as he not only punishes the harder parts of the album flawlessly, but also applies Latin grooves to songs like “The Everyday Separation.”

The Baltic Sea’s Through Scenic Heights and Days Regrets has brought me to a stalemate as to what they “sound like.” The album takes the best elements of post-rock, combines them with gentle moments reminiscent of Sunny Day Real Estate and Sharks Keep Moving (ex-Minus the Bear), adds a hint of creepiness, then explodes into heavy riffs that are dying to be heard live. Hearing a debut album of this caliber actually makes me nervous to witness their live show, a feeling I get not too often. This Maine quartet has a bright future ahead of them, and Through Scenic Heights and Days Regrets is only the start.