Ben Cramer is a man between stages. Given the timing of his third LP, that sounds about right.
Cramer’s creative nom de plume is Old Sea Brigade, an outlet he’s used for the last several years to craft an emotive and compelling mix of textured pop/folk compositions that sound like lived-in film credits. Through previous singles, EPs, and albums, Cramer has explored the (oft-relational) joys and sorrows and tests and trials of young adulthood with acclaimed records like Ode to a Friend or Motivational Speaking.
5am Paradise, Old Sea Brigade’s latest album, is filled with the sort of tension and mystery that signals Cramer’s move toward meaning. The songs on 5am Paradise ask questions of aging, of life stages coming and going — questions that aren’t easily answered, if at all. One composition will make a grand query only to find Cramer trying his best to just enjoy the moment on the next. These are songs about wanting to stay young and grow old, all at the same time — the sentiments you might expect after a couple of albums documenting life in your 20s.
What makes Cramer’s treatment of this transition so meaningful is his openness in all aspects of it. When answers cannot be found, he doesn’t force them. When the details don’t paint him as a hero, he shares them anyway. Nothing here is simple, yet it’s this inability to parse the world in easy ways that signal something substantive, something resonant, and it’s how you know Cramer is onto something.
On the stunning title track, “5am Paradise,” Cramer marries a beautiful synth melody to this wrestling match with fleeting youth. He sings, “Holding on to my younger ways when time was long and nothing changed” as his response to “Remember an old friend say you’re gonna miss these days so slow down and let it play.” How long can we hold onto those moments? Cramer isn’t sure himself, but he’s enjoying one last moment all the same.
On “Drive Alone,” Cramer takes the listener inside the very moments of deeper consideration. “I didn’t fall in love but fell enough to really scrape my knees,” he realizes as he’s contemplating passing moments and relationships on the titular journey. He continues, “Don’t need a lucky star or guiding light / Just someone from my memory to hold me tight.” Each stanza ends with the affecting line, “I’m not a runaway / I just drive alone these days.”
Living in such tension isn’t always pleasant, but Cramer’s wise enough to admit that much, too. On “Somedays,” he writes: “Will we always have to have our doubts / Hovering like the clouds in the springtime / Will it always have to be this way / Can’t tell between the night and day in the fall.”
Not everything is self-serious here, and even much of what’s been mentioned is subject to interpretation. But Old Sea Brigade’s latest isn’t just a lovely album filled with earnest exploration; it is also a signal fire from an artist well on his way to deeper understanding. That’s only going to serve (and fuel) his craft for years to come.
Old Sea Brigade’s 5am Paradise is out Oct. 28 on Nettwerk.