Creeeeak. That’s the sound of all six shoulders involved in Tall Ships [Twitter/Facebook] straining under the effort of holding up the the colossal weight of expectation that’s been increasing since the first material from their extremely-long-awaited debut album surfaced early in 2012. D-Day is almost upon us, and in less than a week, the force of nature that is Everything Touching will be unleashed upon the world. Some people could argue that they perhaps set the bar a little too high with lead single T=0, and indeed, one won’t find a better introduction to an album from this year. Believe me, I’ve looked.
As good as the song was on its own, in album context it’s a stunning curtain-raiser, built upon a nagging riff that eventually explodes into life, setting the scene in earnest. Frontman/guitarist/synth player Ric Phethean is in fine voice throughout the entire album, and his lyrics clearly point out that the trio, completed by Matt Parker (bass, sampler) and Jamie Bush (drums, bass) have their mind set on big things: ‘The space we fill is infinitesimal, and time won’t wait for anyone/But when I’m with you, we are invincible; together as one, all worries come undone.’
Phethean does his best Morrissey impression on angst-ridden current single Gallop, which poses big questions without being able to provide answers, capturing twentysomething hopelessness brilliantly; over driving drums and a searing guitar line, he delivers lines like, ‘Time keeps marching on and on; still, you’re hung up on things you haven’t done; all you have now are regrets, and you’re heavy with emotional debt to the ones you love’. If all this sounds a little too heavy for some listeners, there’s the sparkling power-pop of Phosphorescence to provide something lighter, painting a picture of a carefree life: ‘Underneath the stars at night, we found our place / We took off all our clothes and ran naked into the sea.’
These songs (along with triumphant instrumental Best Ever) display the band’s (musically) upbeat side to great effect. The other side of the coin is songs like the post-rock-influenced Idolatry, perhaps the most laid-back moment on the album; the mid-tempo Oscar, which is driven by steady drumming and a wonderful riff that falls away after two minutes to mark the song’s passage into dreamier territory, finishing up as something almost unrecognisable from its origin; and the devastating penultimate track Books, reworked from its incarnation on the band’s self-titled EP into something much more expansive, fitting the contemplative nature of its lyrics.
The two songs that balance these two sides are the most impressive on the album, which is saying something: a re-recorded version of Ode to Ancestors starts slow with atmospheric verses before erupting into a frenzy of activity (the moment the drums kick in is among the most euphoric musical moments of 2012); and jaw-dropping closer Murmurations adds a 4/4 thump to proceedings, starting with a simple guitar line which builds on top of itself before getting going in earnest. From there, the song gradually builds towards a raucous finale, the skyscraping gang vocals giving this most singular of debut albums the send-off it deserves.
I find myself once again unable to find any flaws in an album. For it to happen once in 2012 was surprising, especially as nothing from 2011 reached that level for me, but for it to happen twice in the space of six months is unprecedented for me. There’s plenty of variety, technical precision, brilliant hooks, huge choruses and, well, ten absolutely irresistible songs. I’ve been living with this for almost two months, and I would only be able to decide on my favourite song if you put a gun to my head. (It’s T=0.) There are immediate songs, and then there are growers – once you’ve spent as much time with this album as I have, you should find yourself in a similar position.
Tall Ships have truly gone above and beyond with their ambitious, bold and breathtaking opening statement. Is it perfect? Well, right now it’s as close to perfection as any album has come for me in quite a while, right up there with the aforementioned record as my favourite album of the year, yet for completely different reasons; that’s more than good enough for me. Whether you prefer their poppy side, their more expansive side, or fall anywhere in-between, Everything Touching will have something for you. It’s the sound of a band who have forged their own path in music since inception. It will fly under the radar for some, but others will rejoice in its magnificence. Looking for the most complete, yet still most promising, British band in years? Here they are.
Everything Touching is released on Monday via Big Scary Monsters.