Zrnasta ambijentalna kvantna fizika. Zvukovi podzemnog noćnog kluba u kojem pijane elementarne čestice na istrošenim gravitacijskim instrumentima sviraju pjesme za tužne elktrone i nesretno zaljubljene neutrine. Predivna podsvijest fizike.
'Ballads Of The Research Department' might well be The Boats' highest profile release to date. For 12k the trio of Andrew Hargreaves, Craig Tattersall and Danny Norbury have crafted one of their most exquisite albums, working with new vocalists Chris Stewart and Cuushe to realise a sensitive and tenderly intimate suite of sounds. 'Ballads…' breaks down as four extended compositions, rendering quiet pop gems as somnambulant drifts of rich strings, slowly effervescent tape effects and electro-acoustic detail which simply sound like nobody else. Two of the ballads are purely instrumental, '…For Achievement' sweeping from desolate widescreen ambience thru warbly, tape-worn texture descending to heartbreaking strings and tinkered electronics with a breathless, frictionless grace, while '…For the Girl On The Moon' is informed by a mixture of neo-classical and burnished midnight jazz modes arranged with a blink and miss sleight-of-hand. Working with Chris Stewart on '…For Failure' the atmosphere is tangibly rich with smoky tape delay, drifting in-and-out of consciousness with a duvet-diving quality, while Japanese vocalist Cuushe is placed against a ghostly backdrop of almost Burial-esque atmopsheres, plangent keys and padded bass, before swooning into Danny Norbury's cello reverie"- Boomkat
"It’s 2k12 and here we go with The Boats 2.0 on 12k. Actually, for Craig Tatersall and Andrew Hargreaves this is more like incarnation 3.5. Luckily, with these two, evolution is never a bad thing. Ten minutes into Ballads of the Research Department, the newest album from The Boats, and their first for the celebrated 12k label, it’s clear that this is a different record for them. The first five minutes of the opening song offer a sampling of some familiar elements: grainy tape loop work, precocious folktronic elements, dub, modern classical and drone. These sounds don’t come at the listener all at once mind you, instead each element is given its own moment to build up then rescind. It feels like an introduction, an assemblage of the different sounds that have come to define The Boats across the years, all coming at you in a series of vignettes. And then the acoustic drums enter, pretty high up in the mix too, telling you this is new terrain for The Boats. The other dead give away you’re in for a very different record for the duo? At ten minutes in, you’re still listening to the opening song of the album. Ballads of the Research Department is a new sound for The Boats in many ways, but one that still captures the charm of all their other works, even as they mine new musical territory.
In a way those first five minutes of the album could be titled ‘a career retrospective – catching up with The Boats’. And a lot of catching up there is to do too, by now The Boats have evolved enough for four bands. From their early works for Moteer which felt like an evolution of folktronica; to the even more minimal ideas they explored on the first two releases for their own Our Small Ideas imprint and their Faulty Toned Radio release for flau; to the inclusion of a modern classical bent via Danny Norbury’s contributions, first appearing on the tour EP with Pan Am Scan; to the bigger sounding dub-inflected pop-electronic sounds that appeared on their Home Normal release Words are Something Else and the stunning Verbs are not Enough companion remix EP; to the tape loop experiments that defined their work in 2011; one thing The Boats could never be accused of is stagnation.
And if The Boats ever felt like two guys in a room crafting tiny sounds for tiny songs, well, this is something bigger. And bigger it is in every sense of the word; many moments sound as though they are coming from a full band, the songs are longer, the production sounds bigger, and it is the most conceptual record they’ve released to date. As for the use of acoustic drums, they don’t just make an appearance on this record; they are all over it. Yep, if ever there were a ‘rock band’ incarnation of The Boats, this is as close as they’ve come. This is a record that is going to surprise a lot of people.
“Ballads of the Research Department” is a title that reads in many ways like a contradiction in terms and that contradiction is precisely what has made and continues to make The Boats great. On the one hand you have the word ‘ballad’, and to read Andrew and Craig’s words on the matter they really do see these songs as explorations of/ challenges to what constitutes a ballad. On the other hand, there is that word ‘research’, which runs as far in the opposite direction as possible: if ballads are calculated plays at sentimentalism, research implies the potential for failure. Something about The Boats music has always felt uncalculated, like we the audience we’re being invited to witness their experiments; the best of their experiments mind you, but the music has always felt personal and fragile. And that’s what “Ballads …” is too; it’s an experiment to see how big they could make their sound while still retaining that smallness, that intimacy that defines so much of their work (so much so that Boomkat has often used the word ‘bijou’ to describe their work).
In the past, if you’d followed the respective solo works from Andrew Hargreaves and Craig Tattersall, there were hints as to how this duo might evolve. Danny Norbury’s heavy inclusion on Andrew’s wonderful Fragments/Defragments work hinted at Norbury’s growing presence within The Boats family. Similarly, Andrew’s work as Beppu hinted at the infusion of dub into their sonic palette for the Words Are Something Else album and the stunning Verbs are not Enough EP (Did I say that already? Good.) Craig’s and Andrew’s work in recent years with tape loops as The Humble Bee and Tape Loop Orchestra respectively certainly setup the arrival of that addition to their palette. However, to find a precursor to this now shoegazey/space-rock element of their sound, you’d be hard pressed to find recent clues. There was however hints at longer compositions via the much longer songs in The Humble Bee’s, E and I’s and Tape Loop Orchestra’s most recent opuses. And opuses are what we get with “Ballads…”
Four of them to be precise. The shortest of which is over ten minutes. Had The Boats ever written a ten minute song in their career up until 2011? I don’t recall. “The Ballad for Achievement” opens up the album with a combination of sounds that feel like a cold wind coming at you. Danny Norbury’s string work is subtly at play in the background, lending the piece warmth to counterpoint all that cold. And then? It all fades away to a barely there percolating dub beat. Tape loop hiss enters the composition and is the new source of light and warmth. And then what sound like angelic voices start to rise in the mix. Or do they? Instead it turns into a loop. Norbury’s strings keep slowly working their way into the mix and then giving way. It almost feels like the piece refuses to settle down. These vignettes are almost small songs into themselves. Again, everything fades away: piano and strings take over. Then abruptly the tone of the whole piece completely changes to something more mysterious, almost sinister. But, of course, those gentle traces of warmth, those moments of melodies that ooze an effortless, yet soul-stirring charm start to fight their way through again. And then? … And then? Acoustic drums. The whole song settles down as a hip-hop beat weaves underneath all the elements. Now we’re in it, this is The Boats you know and then some.
“The Ballad for Failure” begins with some arpeggiated, clean-sounding electric guitar. Again, is this new for The Boats? I’m trying to think of a time they used clean-sounding electric guitar in a song. Not only that, there’s a second guitar in the background. Acoustic drums enter and the song rolls along gently. Chris Stewart comes into to do his thing, and really you don’t get much better than a song that features Norbury and Stewart. If “…Achievement” refused to settle down, “…Failure” is the opposite, content to just move along at a languid peace. For the first four minutes that is. By minute four though, again it all fades away, and a dub beat and some tape loops come into replace the groove. Each song on the album seems to invite two interpretations: 1) the songs are indeed extended songs 2) each composition is the blending of three or four smaller songs stitched together. The interesting thing, and again this is unique to a group like The Boats, is that this second half of the song would be for most artists heard as some sort of denouement; in the case of The Boats this is the aspect of their sound we are most familiar with: the gentle blend of percolating rhythms, electronic minimalism and classical elements. Either way you interpret it, these are songs that demand your full attention.
“The Ballad for the Girl on The Moon” opens with a melancholy piano introduction. This whole composition feels like Danny Norbury’s moment. It feels like a number of songs pastiched together, as the other compositions do, but Norbury’s work seems to be at the heart of this entire composition. That’s another thing that should be said for this album: it feels like Norbury has finally become an integral part of the very makeup of the The Boats’ sound. Before it felt like Norbury enhanced the sound of the group, whereas now he feels engrained in that sound. I have a (half) joke I like to tell involving Danny Norbury, it goes like this: Q: Is there such a thing as cheating when it comes to making music? A: Yeah, put Danny Norbury on your song. Needless to say: Norbury’s track record for elevating every piece of music he participates in continues.
“The Ballad of Indecision” begins with an almost dark feel as coarse electronic sounds come at the listener in sparse, spiky rhythms. Then, yet another new element to the Boats sound: Japanese lyrics and vocals from Cuushe. This feels like the most experimental and darkest composition of the four. Again, as the piece gets really dark, it all fades away and Norbury comes up in the mix. This seems to be a strategy for the album: create dark, terse moments that seem to swell; let them rescind to the nothing from whence they came; then let a gentle melody, usually via piano, strings or tape loop, enter to lighten things up or at least provide some sense of warmth to the songs. Then, the final few minutes of the song, some of those dubby rhythms come in again, but to gently wind down the song. Cuushe’s vocals take on a breathy quality and are manipulated then layered until they disappear completely, as both the song and the album come to a close. Is this use of vocals at the end meant to mirror those angelic voices at album’s open? As it all ends, there is no way to not feel that at the very least the album has taken you on a journey.
Shoegazey/space-rock-jam vibes, extended songs, an album length ode to the art of the ballad, a new vocalist singing in a new language: this is The Boats for 2012. If one thing makes Ballads standout in the trajectory of The Boats musical evolution thus far, it’s that often they’ve tended to do a hard left, making a new record that prominently features that ‘new’ musical element from their palette (i.e. the dubby-ness of Words are Something Else), and then re-calibrate their sound to more seamlessly integrate that new component into their overall sound. With Ballads, it feels like there is some missing link to how they arrived at this moment; meaning it feels like we are bearing witness to the re-calibration, not the preliminary hard left that notes what it is to come. That is not meant to be derisive of the album, simply to give context as to why I believe it will surprise some people. To sum Ballads up in another way, think of it like this: up until now The Boats have been making headphone music, this is their stereo record.
There is an interview on the topic of Stanley Kubrick where filmmaker Alex Cox highlights the fact that in Clockwork Orange there is a visibly placed LP of the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack. Cox says of this moment that it was Kubrick’s way of saying that he was from that point on only influenced by one filmmaker: himself. The thing I’ve always taken away from Cox’s point is that artists, especially the truly great ones, have their own language. How that applies to music is that often the works of art that affect us the most take time for us to appreciate because they take time to learn. Think of how many records you love deeply that left you baffled or bored the first time you heard them, then think of how what you were hearing and the way you were hearing it changed over time. It’s because in part, you, as the listener, were in the process of learning this entirely new language. The Boats not only keep expanding their vocabulary, they keep switching up their language. I imagine most readers of Fluid are anticipating the release of this record and in the chronological order of highlight-albums you’re looking forward to for the year, this one comes first, simply based on its early release date for 2012. The good news is that for most listeners they will still be listening to this record come March, growing ever fonder of it, all whilst learning the latest in language via The Boats in the process." - Brendan Moore
Our Small IdeasThis album is reportedly a favourite of the Boats boys themselves and to be honest I'm not surprised. As an expanded version of a sought-after CDr which kicked off the Our Small Ideas Boats sub-label series, this music is already precious in its original form. It captures the (then) duo in organic early hours territory making some of their most intimate, rustic, twinkly sounds.
Nothing overstays its welcome here, you know you're on fertile ground when within a minute of pressing play you're submerged in hovering wordless voices humming, lulling wistful guitar and the most subtle of glitch-beats, so tiny you can barely hear it. 'Information for Employers' is characteristic of that innocent time in electronica before twats applied useless genre-tags to it. Fragile electronics, field recordings, tender blunted, tactile acoustic instruments doused in those gorgeous reflective xylophone tinkles. A pure sound.
For another example 'Raindrops Remain' holds down a lovely pattering electronic beat, a disembodied acoustic loop, a backdrop of dream-like chiming wonder and an example of innocent schoolboy singing that is sorely missing in much of today's underground DIY scene.There is so much to digest throughout the nineteen pieces here so I'll leave you to discover these experimental wonders spread thickly across this shiny Japanese drinks mat yourselves. We hold a definitive album of their career in our hands here, lovingly stretched out to include fresh dimensions with the inclusion of a couple of well-placed remixes, alternative versions and tracks sympathetic to the previous original collectors item. We're really lucky to get exposed to music infused with this much love and innocence, It makes my day when I'm fortunate enough to sit here with a decent coffee and a smoke with the autumn sun streaming through the window and listen to these Lancashire dreamers. They make this shitty world seem a much nicer place. - www.normanrecords.com/