Rediscovered #1: Tall Ships EP

by Dominic Woodcock

A note from the Editor: As a New Year begins, as does a new PearShaped column. Loyal writer and reviewer, Dominic Woodcock, will be sharing his musical wisdom with us each fortnight, telling us about a brilliant, understated release you may not have heard yet. Our first installment comes in the form of Tall Ships’ self-titled EP - happy listening!

In 2012, I was so excited for the release of Tall Ships’ debut album, Everything Touching, that I pre-ordered a limited edition copy with a T-shirt and all sorts of other goodies months before its release. I did so on the strength of two EPs: There Is Nothing But Chemistry Here and their self-titled release from 2010. Reflecting back for this piece, the band’s debut album stands out as one of the most disappointing listens of my life. There Is Nothing But Chemistry Here was a great release, but the band’s self-titled EP was nothing short of incredible. Having re-listened to Everything Touching, my memory of it was slightly unfair but I cannot deny that it lacks the fervour and vitality of the band’s first four tracks, dropped back in 2010.

Formed while at University in Falmouth, this trio is composed of Ric Phethean on guitar and vocal duties, Matt Parker on bass, and Jamie Bush on drums. They play an experimental brand of indie rock, unique in its weird but jubilant approach to the genre. They cite bands like Sigur Rós and Explosions In The Sky as influences and that is apparent in their grander songs, but their playful side showcases a whimsical take on the sounds of bands like Battles and Tera Melos.

Each of the four tracks on Tall Ships has its own identity, covering diverse topics such as sentence composition, natural reefs, dogs, and the inevitability of time. Opener, Books, starts with a brooding synth line that heralds the coming storm as it grows in ferocity. It dissipates to reveal the EP’s tender first line: “God, I’m scared.” It leaps directly into grand themes of life and death with my choice line “I’ve wandered this library for years now / Killing time whilst time slowly killed me.” I do not know if they wrote that when faced with an essay deadline, but it is a line that always crops up in the back of my mind whenever I am procrastinating. This track is one of my favourites of the past five years, and a soulless reworking on their debut album was one of the main reasons I found it to be so heartbreaking.

Although the EP is bookended by grand anthems, its two middle tracks are angular, danceable instrumentals built around enchanting and esoteric samples. Words Are Pegs Upon Which We Hang Ideas features bizarre excerpts from a 1948 show about improving your vocabulary. It seems trivial at first, in comparison to the bombastic opener, but it showcases the band as their most spirited, incorporating a lively horn section into the mix. The following track, Beanieandodger, is similar in character and features a sample of the band’s dogs barking.

Vessels, the record’s closer, is something of a spiritual companion to Books as it returns to a grand theme after two lighter tracks, exploring the end of a relationship through the metaphor of a shipwreck. With harmonies almost reminiscent of a sea shanty, it finishes with the refrain “It’s formed a natural reef, upon which new things have grown / Things so wonderful, that I have never known”, implying that new positives can be found in something seemingly disastrous. The shipwreck metaphor may well have been lifted from Gallows’ classic Abandon Ship, but its positive resolution fittingly ends a record characterised by infectious melodies and lively samples.

With their second album coming out later this year, the strength of their first two EPs suggests that Tall Ships still have the potential to become one of the biggest bands in the UK. Their sound might err on the weird side, but it always remains firmly rooted in catchy melodies.