The Boats: Songs By The Sea

Songs By The Sea is the debut outing from The Boats, a trio whose members are content to be identified by first name only—Craig, Andrew, and Elaine to be exact—though we're told they bring backgrounds in Hood and The Remote Viewer to the project. While there's a cool and overcast ambiance to the set, the titular sea isn't tumultuous but generally becalmed—these boats rock gently as opposed to violently capsize. The self-effacing group cultivates a dreamy, hypnotic fusion of electronics and organic sounds that can be lulling, but there's more than enough detail to savour for those listening closely enough.

As if awakening, soft ripples and distant waves in “Lessley” begin the album quietly, the song fleshed out by a simple electric piano melody and Elaine's whispered vocal, her voice as light as a wind-blown feather. Throughout, songs offer subtle hints of influences; crunchy beats and intertwined bass and guitar patterns recall The Remote Viewer (“It's Not Your Fault (It's How Air Works)”) while ambient skitter in “Names On A Map” suggests Basic Channel. Some Eno-like synths appear in “You Run Circles Around Me,” imbuing the song's suspended haze with exotic atmosphere. The group shows an especially sensitive handling of glitchy textures, whether it be the soft pitter-patter of crackle and hiss (“I Only Missed By One Word”) or seashore evocations (“All Thumbs And Thumbs”); 'natural' sounds (windblown tinkles, aquatic chords, organ washes) extend the rich instrumental palette.

While the group's sound is distinctive, other points of reference might include Múm's Summer Make Good (having been recorded in two remote Iceland lighthouses, it too exudes a palpable seaside ambiance) and Music A.M.'s A Heart & Two Stars (which traffics in a similarly kind of becalmed song craft). The Múm connection emerges most strongly in the last song (“Kind Regards”), perhaps the album's strongest, where melodica and harmonium voice a lovely melancholy theme alongside rackety beats. They recede midway, leaving the two instruments now joined by soft singing and woodwinds until, fittingly, voices alone end the song—a glorious coda to this well-crafted set of delicate mood pieces.

November 2004