Listing Ships: The Hayling Island Sessions (Idle Fret/American Steam Company Recordings)
12”vinyl + Digital
Out October 29th

Set sail with Chris Hearn for an in depth analysis of instrumental sea dogs Listing Ships.

“Listing Ships are an Oxford-based, nautically themed instrumental post-krautrock band.” Wait, what was that again? A nautically themed band? Is this a genre I never knew about? Are there other nautically themed bands out there I should be made aware of?? Okay, so, that’s the first shocker, although it shouldn’t be given the name of the band. Here’s the thing about this though: It’s a cool theme. I grew up on Lake Superior, watching lakers and salties come in to harbour. I used to ride my bike down to the mouth of the Kaministiqua River not far from my house where I would see giant lakers being loaded with grain. These boats fascinated me. How could something that huge, made of solid steel, filled with tons of goods possibly float? Then, there was the Edmund Fitzgerald, the famed boat that sank in Lake Superior one stormy November night. The Gordon Lightfoot song about that last voyage is one of my favourites. So, ya, to me, the nautical thing is very cool and appreciated.

And here is where it gets even cooler. On a weekend in August, the band went to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) Hayling Island Lifeboat station at Portsmouth, and turned it into a temporary recording studio. So, not only is the album and band name nautical, but the whole creation of the album was done in amongst the sounds, smells and visuals of a station on the seashore. This lends quite a bit of authenticity to the concept. It’s not just an idea attached to a standard studio production. This is going out into “the inspiration” and creating within in it, using it and including it! This gives it complete sea cred. Instead of going out on the beach to collect shells, they picked up field recordings that have been sampled into the songs. They also took some wonderful pictures that make up the album art, including a personal fave of the keyboards being recorded outside, on the beach. This wasn’t just a video prop…this is what they were actually doing. Very cool, indeed. They also put together a well done “video blog” of their experience which I quite like:

Watch: A Mini Documentary

The songs themselves are amazingly interesting to listen to. The band includes in their package a “breakdown” of what inspired each of the songs. I like that, and appreciate the band for adding those in. It adds even further to the sea cred thing, and helps to understand where these sounds came from.  For example: “Equus Ager”. “Equus Ager is the vessel, formed from a dream, in which we made our maiden voyage.” Well, okay, not the best example because, honestly, I’m not sure what that means. I can’t say I always understand the connection between the “inspirations” for the song with the song itself. But, hey, can’t have everything, right? However, several songs have some interesting historic connections, like the fuzzed out “Baychimo” (about a Swedish trading ship which is now a ghost ship off the coast of Alaska), or the bass heavy, warrior anthem-esque “100 Gun Ship” (“Inspired by the first-rate ship of the line HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar”).

“100 Gun Ship” video:

“Nutcracker Six” is a personal favourite, using what sounds like mostly field recordings of actual radio transmissions, mixed with what sound like engines, banging of metal, sonar and other “found sounds.” It is described as “a documentary about life at Hayling Lifeboat Station” and what a good one it is!

Listing ships, made up of Dave Balch (drums), Mike Bingham (guitar and keyboards), Stuart Fowkes (bass and keyboards) and Jim Hey (guitar) have impressed me with how thorough, organized and methodical they appear to be. The songs are neat, orderly and well thought out. Sonically, it’s a roller coaster from deep, dark bass vs. deadly guitars, to light, airy synth heavy moments; ebbs and tides of sound, surging, falling, and surging again. Good stuff all around. A thoroughly enjoyable, nautically themed listen! Well done, mateys! Aye, aye!

You can find Listing Ships floating around online at their website, on Facebook, and on twitter.Their music is available from their Bandcamp HERE. Ahoy!

All words by Chris Hearn.

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