Set sail with Chris Hearn for an in depth analysis of instrumental sea dogs Listing Ships.
âListing Ships are an Oxford-based, nautically themed instrumental post-krautrock band.â 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, thatâs the first shocker, although it shouldnât be given the name of the band. Hereâs the thing about this though: Itâs 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 Institutionâs (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. Itâs not just an idea attached to a standard studio production. This is going out into âthe inspirationâ 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 wasnât just a video propâ¦this is what they were actually doing. Very cool, indeed. They also put together a well done âvideo blogâ 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 âbreakdownâ 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.Â For example: âEquus Agerâ. âEquus Ager is the vessel, formed from a dream, in which we made our maiden voyage.â Well, okay, not the best example because, honestly, Iâm not sure what that means. I canât say I always understand the connection between the âinspirationsâ for the song with the song itself. But, hey, canât have everything, right? However, several songs have some interesting historic connections, like the fuzzed out âBaychimoâ (about a Swedish trading ship which is now a ghost ship off the coast of Alaska), or the bass heavy, warrior anthem-esque â100 Gun Shipâ (âInspired by the first-rate ship of the line HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgarâ).
â100 Gun Shipâ video:
âNutcracker Sixâ 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 âfound sounds.â It is described as âa documentary about life at Hayling Lifeboat Stationâ 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, itâs 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!
All words by Chris Hearn.