Brian S. Cassidy is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter from Austin in Texas. Even if you don’t recognise the name, you’ve almost certainly heard his music talents, as he has spent years as a member of Okkervil River and as a sideman in Shearwater. Alpine Seas is his debut solo album, and one which allows him to display every talent he’s developed in his career. As if to emphasise the fact this is a solo album, Cassidy plays every instrument himself, from guitars and drums to mandolin, violin, pedal steel and trombone. On top of his multi-instrumentalist skills, he also recorded, mixed and mastered the whole thing himself, using just two sub-$100 microphones and an eight year old computer. We cover a lot of DIY self-recorded music here at WTD, but I’m struggling to think of one that sounds so great, so clear and polished.
The first track on Alpine Seas is ‘I’m An Ocean, which introduces the album’s tone and themes immediately. In terms of sound it could be filed alongside artists such as S. Carey, feeling somehow natural and panoramic, not unlike the landscape on the album art. ‘Beyond the Dark’ is a love song about finding peace in the quiet moments, evoking that period of time just before sunrise when the sky begins to brighten slowly and the hidden edges of the darkness become softer and less unknown. When life feels every bit as magical as it should.
“Beyond the glow there is a place
Where the shade bends with the night
Where I’ve been known to go
To help my mind hear my heart”
‘A Cruise’ has acoustic guitars and piano and the same undulating vocal melodies and electrified sense of the natural world that I associate with Bon Iver. ‘Arcadia’ is like one of the more upbeat songs from Evening Hymns and has shades of the same outlook, of finding solace and encouragement in nature, quite literally the classical notion of Arcadia. The song is imbued with a sense of hope and encouragement, a positive outlook that feels sometimes all too rare in serious, thoughtful art. “Walking in the pine wood / I feel I could say the words that could make you love me,” Cassidy sings, “I haven’t figured them out, but I’m gonna try / I haven’t asked you yet but I’m going to try, try, try”. ‘Uncompahgre’ is a rockin’ Americana track with pedal steel and talk of sunsets in the American West, the warm and rich acoustic guitar on ‘Make Believin’ accentuated with horns and layered vocals, and ‘Clare’s Bridge’ opens with glacial atmospherics before the entrance of big crunchy electric guitars. ‘The South’ is one of those songs that rises above its own sense of sorrow, feeling if not joyous then at least hopeful, with mandolin and charming backing vocals from Cassidy’s seven year old daughter.
“Do you remember all the times we spent
in our lives looking up at the stars?
How can you afford to
forget what I cannot?
Is it all the same?
Does it take all you got?”
‘Rich Man’ is a set in the aftermath of a break-up, all elegant piano and electric guitar, before ‘If I Could Right a Song’ offers a simple acoustic track about finding that mythical collection of words and chord changes that captures the hearts of society, a song that brings not just fortune and fame but also the love of the people you care about most.
Alpine Seas is a record about the wonder of the world and the fact that we’re alive in it. That feeling you get when looking at the star-scattered sky, the feeling of infinite smallness and insignificance before the vastness of the universe, the way your problems pale when held up to the persistent beauty of the natural world. Alpine Seas was released by Wren & Shark, a really cool not-for-profit independent record label who give 100% of proceeds directly to the artist. You can buy it now from the Brian S. Cassidy Bandcamp page.