Tall Ships - Everything Touching - review - By Volume

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tall ships - everything touching

Tall Ships

Everything Touching

An enormous fusion of math-rock, pop hooks and explosive climaxes.

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Author: on October 5, 2012
Big Scary Monsters
October 8, 2012

Regional music is dead. We can all stop searching for the next cultural jackpot like Manchester ’89 , Seattle ’91, or NYC ’02, because that place is right here at our fingertips – the internet. Every artist, genre, trend, meme, or cultural phenomenon remotely related to popular and not-so-popular music is now accessible from all smartphones and devices (which, I’m told, now outnumber people on the planet) making us all equal parts influencers and influenced. The world has become one big scene. If you’re a consumer, you can buy any song you want. If you’re a musician, the entire history of sound is there for inspiration. And if you write about music, the next great band you might uncover is just one YouTube click away. It’s hard to surprise anyone anymore, let alone to be surprised.

That is, until you are. Turns out, not only did the internet fail to kill local music scenes, it can actually transport you directly into the center of one. Two weeks ago, I stumbled across Tall Ships, a band from a region with which I’m not familiar – Brighton, England. If you’re from the UK, you might have heard of Tall Ships, but if you’re a geographically-challenged Yank like myself, you almost certainly haven’t. And that’s a shame, considering they draw from an impressive array of math rock, post punk, and post hardcore influences (both American and British) and write superb songs that can fill huge places. No, you may not have heard of Tall Ships yet, but chances are that’s all about to change.

The UK trio combine the acute melodic angles of their math rock forebears (Battles and Foals) with surging pop hooks and a pugilistic rhythm section reminiscent of mid-aughts post-punk revivalists (Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads). On older EPs, Tall Ships were groove-heavy; they built mazes of claustrophobic starts and stops on “Chemistry” and barrel-rolled through “Hit the Floor” – urgent, imminent, but never quite frantic. But on their debut album proper, there’s an exquisite sense of space and longing between the percussion and pedal looped guitars that the bass doesn’t rush to fill. The resulting void only heightens the tension in these songs and makes Everything Touching their best effort yet.

Opener “T=0″ is built on a corkscrew guitar riff that lances outward like a table saw, serrating the song into neatly arranged melodic shards. It’s savage yet fearsomely precise, recalling Chavez’s seminal “The Guard Attacks” in both tone and vigor. Producer Jamie Field captures Tall Ships’ live energy in raw, unspoiled detail – the wet, bursting whack of the snare and kick drums is inches away from the Steve Albini-territory that every indie rock band covets. At 2:08, there’s a lovely moment when the entire song holds its breath, then snaps back into place as front man Ric Phethean sings over airy synth notes: “The space we fill / Is infinitesimal.” Indeed, moments like this are tiny but leave a huge impression.

By employing loop pedals and samplers, Tall Ships overlay multiple guitar, synthesizer and vocal parts in each song, in effect making the band sound like an act twice their size. Such a technique might be a Faustian bargain, if the group weren’t so careful to construct only as many layers as its three members are able to recreate live. On stage, Phethean and bassist Matt Parker spin like whirling dervishes from guitar to mic to keyboard to laptop, while drummer Jamie Bush flexes in the background like a tightly knotted muscle of syncopation. Drawing comparisons to that of Battles’ John Stanier, Bush’s playing is Herculean and uncannily precise; it serves as the essential human anchor to Tall Ships’ digitally constructed compositions. All told, their live show is a marvel to behold – half magic act and half tribute to the art of multi-tasking. The pleasure you take from discovering who’s making which sound is only surpassed by your amazement that they’re doing it at all.

Tall Ships hit their stride when they bolster meticulous sonic craftsmanship with strong melodies and a raucous, stadium-sized spirit. “Best Ever” thunders to a heart-racing finish, while “Gallop,” quite simply, does. It has a rollicking, hand-clapping vibe that elevates Phethean’s ordinary musings on mortality into an extraordinary message. “Before you know / You’re getting old,” he laments. “Your life is full of ghosts.” But by songs’ end, the drums and guitars rise up again like the furies and Phethean’s despair is transformed: “You lived your life well and honestly/ And with an open heart, give yourself to history.” Bush doesn’t so much keep time as destroy his kit with abandon. It’s a thrilling ride.

Everything Touching‘s best songs are built like airplane runways, with a slow, irrevocable build-up, a sense of moving ever forward, and that delicious moment when the whole thing leaves the earth behind. Some songs (“T=0,””Gallop,” and “Murmurations”) soar higher than others (“Oscar” and “Ode to Ancestors”), but just knowing that a climax awaits you is the real joy here. These are anthems, basically – the kind of big melodies meant for shouting arm in arm with your mates while spilling pints of beer all over the concert floor, whatever town you might be from. I hope Tall Ships make their way across the pond to Boston because I can’t wait to see these songs reconstructed in the flesh. If this means regional music is dead, long live regional music. With Everything Touching, Tall Ships are a band poised to make your region, and everyone’s, their own.

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