Tall Ships - Everything Touching
The first time I saw Tall Ships was in a pub during Southsea Fest '09. The Falmouth three-piece had a mid-afternoon slot, and apart from a hearing a handful of songs I didn't really know much about them and I wasn't too sure what to expect. 'Words Are Pegs Upon Which We Hang Ideas' is the song that still resonates Tall Ships in my mind, and I remember not being able to resist flailing all over the room to it live. The crunchy, sugar-sweet hooks that these guys craft with their repetitive riffage and synchronous synths became permanently ingrained in my memory and I – along with a rapidly-growing, loyal cult following – waited patiently for a full-length record as more and more of their music slowly slipped out in snippets via various EPs.
The next time that I was able to catch the band live was when they headlined the BBC Introducing Stage at Reading Festival back in August, and what an incredible change they've gone through. At the band's core their high-energy, riotous anthems still soar, but they're far more polished and disciplined than the wide-eyed guys they were the last time I saw them, and this more than reflects itself in their debut full-length album, too.
Titled Everything Touching, this is a record that is a 44-minute journey through the many doorways and corridors that Tall Ships have opened and explored over the last couple of years. Agitated, fluttering math rock instrumentals? See 'Best Ever'. Sigur Rós-esque, angelical post-rock? Check out 'Idolatry'. Fist-pumping, body-flailing anthemic indie rock? It's gotta be the lead single 'Gallop'. These songs may sound very different from one another, but there's one key element that all ten tracks share on this record: they're polished. That is, they're all glazed and gleaming with incredibly tight production and bursting at the seams with life. Even the old fan-favourite 'Books' has been completely re-recorded with the upmost care: the backing vocals soar to new heights, and the absolutely majestic build-up raises the hairs on your arms effortlessly.
It's such an engaging and thrilling album that you'll wonder where on Earth time went when it's over. Closing track 'Murmurations' is a bit of a cop-out clocking in at just under ten minutes, but it's swirling synths and cutesy gang vocals are enough to carry you through to the very end. Lyrically themes of loneliness, isolation, growing old and losing touch align themselves with frontman Ric Phethean's gloriously handsome voice, and the words almost become an oxymoron against some of the livelier tunes. Fans of Tellison will feel right at home here: this is indie rock taking its dues from early 90s emo bands such as The Promise Ring, Braid and Hey Mercedes but with a bit more maturity and depth behind it, too.
If there was one debut to be excited about this year, it was Everything Touching, and the end result is most certainly what Tall Ships fans were expecting it to be. It's a fantastic snapshot of a band who've just reached their prime; taking the listener by the hand through a wonderful and vibrant Wizard of Oz-like world full of thumping math rock rhythms and muscular, blister-inducing riffage. Will it get overlooked in the end of year lists? Sure. Does it deserve to be? Absolutely not.