If Seawards sounds remarkably mature for a début album, it's for the very simple reason that, although this is Sickoakes' first serious release (on Type, the small label with the great heart), it comes out of some five years of well-spent ensemble work. Working in various permutations of guitar, bass, woodwind, brass, and percussion, Sickoakes have established a respectable reputation in their native Scandinavia and have released a few locally cherished bits and bobs out of their Stockholm-based Soylent Green studio.
Sickoakes - Soylent Green - Seawards - sounds a bit queasy, doesn't it? But whereas this six-member instrumental band does the tidal strung out post rock thang with proper panache, there's something at the heart of their music that, clearly, just wants to have a good time, and good luck to them, I say. They've done the Mogwai workshops, passed the GY!BE sats paper, and seen the Arctic dawn in with SR, but have very wisely chosen to put all that behind them and get on with being Sickoakes, whatever the fuck that means.
Well, for starters, it seems to mean being able to do the kind of delay-guitar rock orchestral jam that wouldn't shame a Pink Floyd set (eg Oceans on Hold) and also ranging with impressive confidence from the miniature to the colossal, from the meditative, contained Missiles and Mammals (2'58") to the epic Wedding Rings & Bullets in the Same Golden Shrine, Parts I & II - the massive centrepiece of the album - which clocks in at a whopping thirty-eight minutes.
Driftwood, the opener, comes on like the soundtrack to the opening titles of the movie Hitchcock and Orson Welles never made about the Titanic - all ponderous atmosphere, distressed (again!) piano, and a jaunty, mournful, meandering tune plucked on some zither-ish instrument that you just know is going to be the leitmotif of the shadowy German villain who turns out to have been working for the plucky Brits all along. And, whereas the intervening tracks are anything but fillers (Oceans on Hold is a cracking classic of the genre), this troublesome 'cinematic' analogy becomes unavoidable in attempting to describe the awesome, symphonic, mysterious, tumescent thing that is Wedding Rings... that dominates this album.
The structure is relatively simple: a four-minute intro referencing both the liminal and the submarine - attenuated sound-washes and whalesong-like textures - followed by a six-minute slo-build of rising-scale tension, culminating in a glorious postrock fireworks finale - a few minutes surfing on the perfect wave of pure sound-induced serotonin - before pulling back to do it all over again. Then, after half-an-hour or so of all this, a final five minutes of cryptic Titanic-related stuff again - or not - invoking that apocryphal radio operator who continued transmitting a morse message about their location up until the moment of final submersion - the ship's bell that continued tolling all the way to the bottom - the sea-muffled creaks and groans of depth-stressed bulkheads - the prayers for the dead and the dying in a freezing blizzard of static ... sorry, but if you do cinematic, you have to expect subjective (that's my excuse, anyway). And, frankly, if you needed any convincing that good music works in exactly the same way as good sex - listen no further. Enough already. Too much information.
Leonine - the short final track - is as simple as Wedding Rings is complex - a tinkly, unpretentious epilogue that provides fitting, undemanding closure (although, equally fittingly, it does have some trouble in - actually - kind of - stopping - completely - kind of) to such an all-consuming experience.
If Sickoakes were a Florentine Renaissance artist, Wedding Rings would be his Sistine Chapel - an awe-inspiring, neck-craning source of wonder that renders its audience light-headed and speechless. That took four years, too. So set your alarms for 2010, guys, the year the world's population will reach seven billion and Peak Oil happens, cos we'll sure as Sickoakes are Swedish need some kind of masterpiece to distract us from all that then.