Jake Newcomb released his followup to last year’s Prisoner’s Dilemma during late summer in Portland, Oregon, but every time I listen to it, I’m reminded of mid-winter in Portland, Maine. Seeing as I live there, that’s only natural, I suppose. Still, I’m impressed that Newcomb can create songs about hyper-specific moments in his life that make me feel like they’re about my own. That’s exactly what he did with My Own Private Cave, his second full-length cassette as Sea King.
That’s because the emotions winding their way through his private cave are emotions that all creative types have felt before. Fear. Inspiration. Isolation. Aimlessness. Revelation. Doubt. They all occupy room in Sea King’s cave, just as they occupy space in my mind every time I write (especially when I write in the winter in Maine).
Private Cave packs the same genre fluid identity that made Prisoner’s Dilemma so remarkably unique; vinyl samples, Eastern leaning instrumentals, soft-spoken covers of hardcore punk songs, quiet acoustics and distorted electrics are all present and accounted for. But this time around, Newcomb has worked his wide-ranging influences into a tighter, more focused narrative, where each song feels like a chapter in the same book instead of a short story collection.
And when it comes to being a storyteller, Sea King is a generous one. Many artists attempt to shroud their vulnerability in mystique, but Newcomb’s latest songs peel back the curtain, volunteering moments that are unflinchingly human. On “Meditation, Spiritualism and Love,” he samples a recording of an LSD trip in the Oregon wilderness that brought him to tears. “This mental breakdown brought to you by mother nature,” he says, before recounting that fateful trip in song on “Brokedown at the Falls.” His mid-trip musings are at once funny, profound and intimate, like the music that surrounds them.
Private Cave is rich with such confessional moments, like “Reside,” which finds Newcomb questioning the binary nature of good and evil and where he fits into it, and “Pendulum Swings,” where he admits: “I’ve been caught up in my own world, I ain’t got time for anyone.” As the name Sea King suggests, Newcomb has always been one to ask the big questions: about enlightenment, good and evil, and the meaning of life. My Own Private Cave captures some feelings of doubt that accompany him on the search, but its mere existence is proof that he hasn’t given up. For Newcomb, like those other creative types I mentioned, the examined life is not a choice. It’s a necessity. As he puts it on “Get Me Through,” “music is the way to communicate mistakes. I use it as fuel to get me through.” This line, this song, and this album, serve as a reminder for all creators of art to keep creating. Creation can be lonely business, but the lack of creation is not an acceptable option.
I’ll end on one final, unrelated note. On “Lost Boy,” one of the shortest, simplest and silliest tracks on the album, Newcomb sings: “She wants to hear my songs, I tell her she won’t like my songs like the other boys’ songs.” Too hell with the other boys’ songs, Sea King. The world has enough of those already.