Review Summary: An enjoyable and refreshingly laid-back solo effort from Hot Water Music co-vocalist Chris Wollard.
These last few years have seen a vast number of established punk rock musicians taking the plunge and going it alone on various solo projects, and this year sees Hot Water Music
's Chris Wollard doing the very same. Having spent the last fifteen years touring and recording with HWM, as well as stints in American Football
-esque emo types The Blacktop Cadence
, folk/country three-piece Rumbleseat
, and most recently taking the lead with The Draft
, this is Chris' first true expedition into solo territory.
Where his fellow Hot Water Musician Chuck Ragan
forged a path of rugged and anthemic folk with his solo work, Chris has taken a slightly different route, crafting a sublime collection of soft, lilting, folkish indie-rock, often coming across like a more laid-back take on the last couple of Replacements
albums. What's immediately noticable is the approach Chris has taken with regard to his vocals, eschewing for the most part the strong, passionate yells and throaty, melodic delivery which helped make HWM's music so distictive, and instead focusing on a richer, smokier delivery among the lower registers of his vocal range. Not only does this show an effective and yet completely different side to the his significant vocal talent, but it also draws a distinction between The Ship Thieves and Chris' other works (something some of his contemporaries, Tom Gabel of Against Me for example, have struggled to do).
Despite being a solo project in the sense that all the songs were written and arranged by Chris, he's joined here by a whole cast of friends and well-known local musicians from Gainesville, with the likes of Derron Nuhfer (ex-Gunmoll
and Less than Jake
), Ben Lovett (Heavens
), and HWM drummer George Rebelo among others, all providing varied extra instrumentation which truly brings the songs here to life. From the hugely-catchy and fuzzy garage-rock of opener "No Exception" to the gentle acoustic lilt of "Hey B" which closes the procedings, there's a very organic feel to the music - mostly acoustic or lightly-distorted guitars, the odd distant lead guitar part, gentle unobtrusive keyboard and organ textures, backing vocal harmonies, and Chris' ever-present vocals all washing over you like a warm breeze. Even the busier tracks like the aforementioned opener and the almost bluesy couplet of "All the Things You Know" and "Oh, Whatever" still manage to retain a refreshingly laid-back feel.
The key to Chris Wollard & The Ship Thieves
' charm is it's ability to create a relaxed mood without ever becoming boring or drifting into the background. Despite the outwardly upbeat feel to the music, the occasional minor-key melody and Chris' contemplative lyrics add some real emotive depth (best displayed on "The Same to You," a personal favourite), and the perfectly arranged tracklisting flows well, and yet ensures plenty of variation. This is the sort of album that'd be the perfect accompaniment to a long drive, preferably at night - an idea alluded to in the album's beautiful packaging, adorned as it is with photographs of twilight skies, open fields and roads.
It's not fully apparent what's going on with Chris' other projects with regards to touring and recording, but if a little downtime can result in an album as thoughtful, refreshing and enjoyable as this, there's clearly little to be worried about, and I for one look forward to hearing more from Chris Wollard & The Ship Thieves.