Seadog are a band we’ve been following for some time, the main project from local singer-songwriter Mark Nathan Benton, they’ve released a series of beautifully delicate, folk-tinged melodic indie songs through EPs and stand-alone singles over the years. I reviewed the band’s Transmitter EP back in 2015, a fantastic short collection of gentle melancholia, but it’s always seemed to me that Seadog’s music would lend itself best to a full-length album, and here we finally have just that. Cabin Fever Blues is a collection of ten wintry tunes which Benton recorded with a variety of collaborators last year, in a number of locations between Brighton and London. It’s a solid and consistent effort that tends towards the slow and plaintiff.
Benton has an ear for melody and, in particular, where to place those unexpected blue notes which build tension and add to the emotion that underscores all his pieces. It’s probably this that leads to Elliott Smith getting regularly mentioned in the same breath. Benton’s soft vocal style, with muted falsetto, also does much to evoke the late, great singer-songwriter’s work. While Benton doesn’t quite have the same range as Smith, he makes up for it with starkly emotive performances throughout the album.
The album starts off very strongly, with a particularly good run of tracks taking in ‘Yesteryear’, ‘Broken Compass’, and the 2017 singles, ‘As I Am’. ‘Yesteryear’ manages to incorporate some of the sounds and changes you might find in the mellower sides of Blur’s early work, particularly with a pleasantly shrill organ and the sometimes unusual pushed chord changes. It’s a track that drops down to the whisper of a softly plucked guitar, before building back up to a gorgeous crescendo, repeating a refrain about returning to: “The old town”. It’s one of the most dynamic tracks on the album, and a real showcase of what Seadog can do. ‘Broken Compass’ feels like a hug from an old friend when it follows, it’s so familiar I must have heard the band perform it live in the past, and here it’s been beautifully captured, drenched in sorrowful nostalgia, as Benton mourns some unfortunate sequence of events from what seems like a now distant past.
This is an album that often feels more bound to the icy North American landscape of a film like The Revenant, than the British fairground seaside of Brighton. In the imagery Benton evokes when singing about hiding away in canyons and dusty tracks in ‘As I Am’, the album title, or its evocative sleeve design. Really, it feels like the entire album captures a wide-screen cinematic feel, the band ably conjuring a distant old world as plucked arpeggios weave their way into soft distortions when the tracks rise, and fall, shimmering with reverb throughout.
At times I felt enveloped by the cold embrace of the consistently mournful mood. It’s an album full of longing, one to wrap up warm through these dark, winter nights and lose yourself in. Pick yourself up a copy now and this might just help you survive those long dark January nights that are fast approaching, once the Christmas cheer fades.