EP Review: Always Next Year by Seal Pup

The first thing you need to know about Jake Cook’s newest musical endeavor, Seal Pup, is that it’s an exploration in sincerity. Last year, Seal Pup’s debut LP Difficulties set the project’s tone, embracing a more personal voice and straightforward pop sound, while finding footing in the traditions of indie-rock and emo. With Always Next Year, that sound is refined. The eight-song EP plays like a showcase of that undeniable late 1990s/early 2000s sound. Each song seems to exemplify a specific typology within that sound: from ballad to anthem to rallying cry, all in the span of a seamless 20 minutes, creating the impression of listening to one piece in eight parts or one story in eight chapters.

The EP opens unceremoniously on the song “How Could You” with a clean, no frills organ. Just a few measures in and the music is instantly familiar, almost hummable. It’s comforting when you know where a song is going before it has gone there, and Seal Pup provides that intuitively. Jake Cook’s vocals are unaffected and earnest. There’s a purity to his singing technique that makes one feel he could be on stage at an open mic with a composition notebook open before him, singing straight from his journal if it weren’t for the production. Even so, there’s a DIY dynamic that pervades the whole experience.

Thematically, the EP listens like an ode to a not-so-distant past, as though the singer is reminiscing or speaking to a younger self. In "Android Charger", heavily strummed chords give way to glib humor a-la Ben Folds, and one can’t help but feel that the teenager within is being evoked. It is the best flavor of emo; tongue-in-cheek lines that also appeal to the sentimental, set over distorted rhythm guitar and keys interchanging on the instrumental lead.

The next six songs span the gamut of those coming-of-age moments with similar formulaic precision without sounding forced or trite. Although stylistic influences are readily recognizable (Pedro the Lion, Weezer, Ben Folds), they are not oppressive, nor overly represented. Harmonies are especially evocative and resonate with idealism. At moments, the vocal interplay becomes muddied, but this adds to the sense of adolescent restlessness. The result is music that makes a pointed nod towards this genre’s icons while stepping towards its own direction.

Those listeners who are drawn to nostalgia and the storyteller songwriter will find themselves right at home. Overall, Always Next Year makes for a satisfying, albeit unsurprising listen. With the balance of simplicity and solid musicianship, Seal Pup delivers a well-crafted EP that gives the firm impression that Jake Cook has truly tapped into what makes a pop song in all its forms (or at least eight of them). Check out Always Next Year on Seal Pup’s Spotify or Bandcamp and stay up to date on upcoming shows on his Facebook.