This ‘Sea Lion’ article was written by David Lowes, a GIGsoup contributor
A Sea Lion is a large carnivorous aquatic mammal characterised by short, bristly hair (that and their tendency to take lumps out of anything that moves), and since artists rarely choose their stage names after Antarctic predators, we have to assume there is a deeper meaning to Lisa Osterberg’s nom de plume. Pseudonyms can be chosen for a myriad of reasons; you could be trying to avoid the spotlight (unlikely since her face is plastered over the cover); you could be trying to create a character for your album (a la Ziggy Stardust, etc.); you could be trying to reference a substantial event in your life; or you could just not like your name (Eric Arthur Blair to George Orwell). It could be all of these or none of these, for the story you’d have to ask her, but it raises the fascinating question, what’s in the name?
The name of this album is far simpler to decode. ‘Desolate Stars’ is a bit of an oxymoron, a star is the nexus of life, something so long-lived it is almost permanent, desolate implies loss and bereavement. Both descriptions characterise this album well, the brief spasms of hope lost between vertigo-inducing chasms of desolation. On ‘He Wears a Smile’ and ‘If My Baby’ there is something more than hope, something less than expectation, of something good happening to her; but by the end of that album there is the grim realisation that every aspect of life, no matter how good, has a dark side to it. A star is only bright because of the darkness alongside it. It isn’t a good thing, it doesn’t make her happy, but it makes her stronger for knowing it.
The music is accomplished, if a little derivative: among the cooing vocals there is a half-there guitar, but all throughout there’s the sense (musically, at least) that we’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. The lyrics are better, infinitely more personal, they never stray into the depress-fest that this could so easily be; the lyrics are, in a sense, reminiscent of Radiohead in that they are powerful, but never overly sad (in fact ‘He Wears a Smile’ reminds one of Radiohead’s ‘Climbing Up the Walls’). ‘Ghostlands’ (arguably the album’s most lyrically complete song) contains the refrain “Ghostlands / All I ever feel / Ghostlands / All I ever see / Ghostlands / All I ever know”. It perfectly exemplifies the nature of this album: she creates very well the feeling of claustrophobia in a large space, she’s trapped by the inevitability of time. Her voice sounds suitably disturbing, as if a porcelain doll has come to life and starts quoting Morrisey lines at every opportunity, but it never grates or becomes old.
The length of this album is an issue, 25 minutes is, arguably, too short, and in this case it causes Sea Lion to rush through her lyrics (it takes multiple listens to get everything she was saying). And, to be completely blunt, the static just makes it sound like it was recorded over a bridge.
Despite this, this a very accomplished album and, if nothing else, a very beautiful and tender creation. If Sea Lion can find more aquatic predators to name herself after we’re in for a treat.