Alternative electronic pop rock trio Ships Have Sailed are releasing this month Moodswings, their new full-length album. All tracks, even the most somber ones, would find a natural place on the soundtrack of a feel-good summer blockbuster featuring wide-eyed, hopeful teenagers. And yet, the album is nuanced in that the darker sides of life are also embraced. The almost omnipresent underlying pulsing electronic feel gives the tracks a lighter feel that is balanced out with the sometimes contrasting but always harmonious rock-imbibed rhythms.
Will Carpenter (guitar, lead vocals), Dan Hange (bass, backing vocals), and Mike Odabashian (drums, backing vocals) seem to encourage lightheartedness and joy; the name of their band reflects the importance placed on letting things go and enjoying the good things in life. As for the album’s title, it is reflected in the “swing” of moods throughout its 11 tracks. Perhaps the trio is hoping their album might become a staple for those who use music to deal with their own mood swings; the band explains that “[T]he album’s theme echoes the band’s name, a positive spin on the phrase ‘that ship has sailed,’ as it meditates on change’s ability to impact one’s life at any moment.”
There are two main types of songs in this album: the midtempo, angst-ridden ones discussing heavier topics but always with the same pop rock flair dappled with electronic flavours, and the upbeat, teeny-bopper, cheerful ones.
The composition of the opener, “Drive”, is familiar: a steady, midtempo, complex beat, electronic flairs bubbling throughout, and angry vocals. It’s quite moody and heavy, but the underlying pop flavours keep it from becoming gloomy. This love song inspires vivid imagery in its listener: “I wanna drive with you/Nothing to slow us down/Out on the streets tonight” and “Up in outer space/The stars they move like fireflies”. Can anyone else see a car moving on a deserted highway in the middle of a cloudless night?
The anthemic “If Only” might sound like a cheerful, uplifting sing-along track, but it is a sad tale of lost love: “If only I could/Take back your goodbye”. The guitar solo near the end, while very simple, reflects the emotions in the lyrics, conveying an extra layer of meaning without the use of a single word. “Criminal” is another tale of regret. The slower beat, the marching band-like drums, and the wordless chanting that characterises most of it give it a much somber quality.
The intermittent guitar strumming and the beat the drum carries throughout “The Tide” gives it a 1960s pop rock feel. The message is one of warmth and hope: “Sometimes thinking we’re sinking/Makes us struggle just a little more/Tonight it may be hard to try/But wait until the tide is high/To come ashore.” The clapping-like beat carrying the song of warm gratitude that is “You Should Know” makes it come off just as airy as many of the other tracks on this album. But the increasing intensity of the guitar, the drumming, and the vocals gives depth and weight to its lyrics: “You should know how I feel/I just want to thank you/I want to give you the world/You’ve been my salvation”.
One can’t help but think of countless boy bands’ pop rock summer jams as soon as the first notes of “Summertime” hit. It’s very airy and light, with a limited number of layers which make it seem somewhat unfinished. The keyboards pluck out notes in the opening moments of “Out of Time”, making it light and sparkling from the beginning. It’s quite the match for the sentiments expressed in lyrics such as “I just want to hold you/Until the end of time”. The uptempo “Boomerang” has a bit of a 1970s feel to it. The catchy track is highly energetic and recounts a tale of obsession: “Like a Boomerang on the move/I’m always running back to you”.
The mainly acoustic closing track, “Imaginary Friend”, is strikingly different from all the other tracks on this album. It is slightly nostalgic what with the toned down vocals and the wistful group whistling; even if the song builds on itself, it remains quiet and brooding.
Ships Have Sailed have created a lighthearted full-length album even in the midst of its most somber tracks. Moodswings remains catchy throughout and anthemic at times, with most of its radio-friendly songs sounding both quite familiar but uniquely theirs. More information about the band is available on their official website.
Pictures provided by Working Brilliantly.
First published on Blogcritics.