For the most part, indie music has never had much use for production values. The emphasis has always been on the songs and the ideas contained therein. Also, with its roots at least partially in the punk scene, the DIY aesthetic has always been part of indie rock’s charm.

Still, some of the best albums, indie or otherwise, have been the result of the right artist paired with the right producer, each bringing out the best in the other. As talented as they were, would the Beatles have sounded the same without the steady hand of George Martin at the mixing desk? Would Nirvana have blown up as big as they did without Butch Vig’s input on “Nevermind”? Probably not.

“Sultans So Cold So Old,” the debut release from Sea for Miles, is a true collaboration between artist and producer. Matt McInnis is the primary songwriter and creative force, providing the foundation of the songs through his vocals, acoustic guitar and lyrics. His father, Michael McInnis, produced the album and played synths on all the tracks, adding depth and atmosphere to his son’s stark musical landscapes.

The result is a melancholy masterpiece, and it’s the artistry of both McInnises that makes it so special.

Of course, all the production magic in the world isn’t going to make any difference without solid songwriting from the start. Fortunately, Matt provides terrific raw materials for his father to work with, especially lyrically. In the album’s liner notes, Matt describes how the songs were written over a two-year period on long train rides in India and “snowed-in nights in my Portland apartment.” And it’s winter’s chill that can be felt all through the album.

“Thank God here comes our spring” is the first line Matt sings on the album, in opening track “The Dying Man’s Club.” For those of us who have endured this long, cold winter, it’s a powerful opening line indeed, and one that sets the tone for the rest of the record. The album is loaded with winter imagery, from “the cold dry of the winter sky” to “New England homes dripping with the snow,” and “crooked, naked trees. And a winter motif is the perfect backdrop for the album’s themes of depression, isolation and distance from loved ones.


An introspective album like this could easily have turned into a sparse Nick Drake-type recording, with hushed vocals half whispered over a lone acoustic guitar, but that’s not the case here. Matt sings in an emotive but subdued style that’s not unlike a cross between Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie and “Sea Change”-era Beck.

The arrangements are surprisingly lush, with members of Butcher Boy, Post Provost, The Waldos and Where’s My Friend chipping in to help create a full band sound. And though Matt’s voice and lyrics are certainly the stars of the show, it’s the subtle musical touches from the backing musicians that really make these tracks shine.

The ripping guitar solos on “The Dying Man’s Club,” the cacophonous drums towards the end of “Fiddleheads,” the plinking toy piano notes on “Plastic Stars,” the accordion and gorgeous female backing vocals on “The Window Washer’s Daughter,” the electronic sound effects in “Carl,” and the choir-like backing vocals on “Winter Grace” all help to elevate these already great songs into tracks that are truly special.

And on just about every track, Michael McInnis’s keyboards function much like those of Rick Wright of Pink Floyd fame, hanging atmospheric curtains of sound and adding depth, texture and emotional heft to the arrangements. In fact, it’s safe to say that his father’s keyboards are Matt’s secret weapon on this album. Their presence is sometimes subtle, but had they not been included, the sound would have been drastically altered, and the record would have had a completely different feel.

The album was recorded in Michael’s attic studio in Portland, and the production is virtually flawless. Even when the guitars and drums begin to swell and roar, they never overpower Matt’s voice. Michael seems to have found the perfect balance between emotional rawness and production sheen that gives these tracks a bit of a lift when they need it, but lets them breathe when they don’t.

A late-night headphone record for sure, “Sultans So Old So Cold” is the type of haunting album you’ll want to revisit again and again. When the weather finally turns warmer and the temperature soars to the 90s in the middle of July, remember: Winter’s frigid chill is close at hand. Just put on Sea for Miles, and let “the solemn, subtle freeze” wash over you.

Stream the album for free and download it for $7 at Find out more about Sea for Miles at

Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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