Southeast Engine: From the Forest to the Sea

By: Dennis Cook

Metaphorically speaking, floods and fires are cleansing things. Southeast Engine grok this and channel these energies on From the Forest to the Sea (released February 17 on Misra) into their most thoroughly together, distinctly rock-n-freakin-roll slab yet. Where big ideas can sometimes be admired but not always enjoyed (I’m looking at you, U2…), the Engine has only increased the sheer listening pleasure of their music with each successive album. Their fourth album takes the holy rolling of Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart into twilight forests and ocean bottom cartography expeditions, a feverishly flowing musical torrent full of rushes and still pockets, each perfectly suited to the moment. The only certainty is the intensity and conviction of each turn and multifaceted observation.

The first 60 seconds of “The Forest Pt. I” – a wild, churning jerk ‘n’ pull that leaves one slightly rattled – is indicative of the pronounced level of invention here. “The Forest Pt. II” is commensurately peaceful, all piano tinkles and controlled ache, while “The Forest Pt. III” returns to the wind-in-the-hair rush and shotgun poetry of “Pt. I.” Taken together, this opening triptych sets the bar amazingly high, yet Southeast Engine keeps knocking out beautifully constructed gems till the end. From the ’74 Willie Nelson-ism of “Law-Abiding Citizen” to the fearful beer hall saunter of “Two of Every Kind” to the weary, Basement Tapes jangle of “Quest for Noah’s Ark” and all sorts of cool textures & colors besides, From the Forest to the Sea hums with life. Anyone vibing with My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses or Marah is going to find a LOT to dig, but never in any way that reminds one exactly of any of these buzz bands. One feels the humanity of this music reach out and unless you’re made of stone you’re likely to shove your paw back in their direction. As they search for God’s grace – unabashedly and with suitable shame – we join their pilgrimage, perhaps without even knowing why or caring how far off Bethlehem lies.

All raised hand loftiness aside, Southeast Engine can also rock pretty farkin’ good. “Black Gold” has some of Dylan’s mid ’60s urgency and hot iron literacy, and it’s far from the only spot where they whip the mule hard. Like a lot of classic rock ‘n’ roll, this album feels pulled from something larger than a few guys in a garage, as if their instruments and intellects have mounted a derrick over a rich pool of ontological goo. And kids, this record is a gusher – splashing ideas and shifting gears with studious abandon. It’s even fun in places. “Easier Said Than Done” could be a great, lost Modern Lovers track. But, rather than eclecticism for the sake of it, this set showcases a hugely diverse band fully embracing their range and power.

One hesitates to use words like ‘masterpiece’ or ‘classic’ for an album released this week BUT spend even a little time with From the Forest to the Sea and you may find yourself tempted. I know for certain that it will be ages before I unlock the majority of this album’s secrets. There’s a density of language and concepts that invites long cogitation, yet it’s all delivered with a charming, if occasionally crooked, smile. For all the storm clouds and damp socks, there’s a candle’s glimmer of real fucking hope. And that’s the true kind, the kind that flutters and hisses and almost, just almost, dies out but never does. In more pedestrian lingo, this is an amazing record and it’s likely to hit you where you live, wherever that may be.

Video for first single off new album.

Here the band plays “Ostrich,” one of the standouts from their previous album, on Brown University’s student radio station. Those who missed A Wheel Within A Wheel are encouraged to check out JamBase’s rave for a small kick in the ass to check it out.

JamBase | Dry Land
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