Every time I think the guy or girl with a guitar formula is just about completely played out, I hear something that makes me think twice. The latest to make me do a double-take is The Battle Of Land And Sea, which conjures up a cross between a sort of more spectral Cat Power and the soft work of Amy Annelle (The Places). Mainly the work of Portland, Oregon-based singer Sarah O'Shura (on acoustic guitar and vocals), this quiet release is rounded out with electric guitars by musical partner Joshua Canny.
While the components that go into each song are fairly close to the same, this brief release (eight songs, thirty-two minutes) manages to showcase some nice variety and some absolutely gorgeous melodies. "Saltwater Queen" has an aptly sea-faring feel, as urgent vocals and acoustic guitar by O'Shura are punctuated by ghostly ripples of trilling electric guitar. "The Beautiful Ones" adds a touch of hand percussion, some backing vocals, and a few strums of banjo, and the open-air track (which has the thick reverb of a big room) plays off some slight timing shifts that only help build its intensity.
Another of the true standouts of the release is the stunning cover of "Harden My Heart." Originally a Pat Benetar-esque cheesy 80s track, it's turned into a flat-out devastating piece that moves at a slow core pace but buckles with swoons of heavily-reverbed guitar and what are probably the best vocals from O'Shura on the entire album. With songs like "I Built The Sea," and "You Are A Sailor" (in addition to the aforementioned album-opener), it seems that the latter part of the groups namesake is winning the battle on this debut release. These are woozy, home-studio folk tracks that sway with a tinge of country, and that's not a bad thing. On the few tracks where the group adds even more wrinkles to their sound, they get even more exciting, but this short debut is definitely a nice introduction.