Dead Red Sea – Birds

There’s something odd about the fact that the members of Deep Elm’s stalwarts Cross My Heart were able to announce the new bands they would be playing in and when new releases would be available the same day that they announced they were breaking up. On that day, a lot of people felt the band’s pain, for over the course of three albums and other releases, Cross My Heart’s blend of emotional rock – emo if you will – and equal parts more intense post-hardcore and more mellow indie rock proved quite popular.
So fans of that band will rejoice that Cross My Heart’s most visible characteristic – the strong, rich, and passionate vocals of Ryan Shelkett – are present in Dead Red Sea. Accompanied by former members of Wrong Button and Third Harmonic Distortion, Dead Red Sea isn’t really just a new Cross My Heart. Rather, I get the sense that Shelkett has finally found the creative outlet he’s been looking for in this new band, and while most of the more intense, hardcore-style moments are gone, this is still fine indie rock.
I always had a small problem with Shelkett’s vocals. As undoubtedly strong and often lovely as they were, they seemed most fitting in Cross My Heart when he was screaming. There’s virtually no screaming on this release, but finally his vocals feel at home. That’s because there’s a sense of melancholy roots-rock underlying most of the songs on Birds. Don’t worry, this isn’t alt-country by any means, but it’s in those softer melodies and more deliberate structures that Shelkett’s vocals are finally able to really shine.
The band starts in familiar territory. “Love is in the Air and is Floating Away” most feels like one of the slower, most recent Cross My Heart songs, with those crisp, melodic guitar lines and strong rhythms providing a backdrop for Shelkett’s vocals. Finally, Shelkett’s vocals are perfectly suited for a song, and that is the more melancholy “Bad Man,” perhaps my favorite song here for his vocals and the quieter, slightly rootsy feel. In the enigmatic “The Rain,” the band takes a page from 50’s crooning pop songs, both in the more rolling vocals and the pleasant guitar riff. “It’s So Hard to Be Alive” shows off the band’s more folky sound, pleasant and with a slight bit of twang to the guitars, and it shows off Dead Red Sea’s penchant for more depressing lyrics. It feels a bit odd followed by the more rocking yet strangely garage-rock feeling “Obscene Calls,” one of the album’s low points, at least until it settles down mid-way through. Another stellar track is the penultimate song, “The Red Sea,” which runs from quiet and melodic to start – with more stellar rhythm, by the way – to more urgent and moody guitars with screaming way in the background for a very cool effect.
The only moments that feel out of place are on the instrumentals. Sounding like a post-psychedelic jam band, these songs obviously let the band explore their music without having Shelkett’s vocals take over as they tend to do, but they also feel like a different band.
In my reviews of each of Cross My Heart’s albums, I pointed out that something bothered me about the band’s music. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and it didn’t stop me from enjoying the albums, but finally I can realize that Shelkett’s strong, emotional voice just wasn’t suited to that style of rock. Or perhaps the band didn’t share his vision for where he wanted to go. Here, it fits perfectly, and in these quieter, more despondent songs, Shelkett and the rest of the band creates some more mellow yet still emotional indie rock.