Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been digesting the album “The Broken Vessels” from a new group called “Tiny Boats”. It’s been a somewhat humbling, stupefying, and inspiring experience, and by the time this review is done, you’ll understand why I chose those words.
When I review an album, I lean not only on my perspective as music lover, but also on my experience and insight as a songwriter, musician, music producer, and audio engineer. Perhaps that makes me more critical, as I tend to analyze the album rather than simply listen to it, but I find it actually helps me better understand the artistry and effort behind each project.
The first few seconds of this album made me nervous… as I heard a simple acoustic guitar part, drenched in an infinite sea of reverb I braced myself for the worst…. Oh please, don’t let this be painful to my tender ears!!! And then…just a couple of seconds into the song – I found myself completely entranced in the music. But, more on that later….
This album is hard to describe, but it is a fantastic blend of styles, ambitiously produced, with songs that have been crafted by lyrical and musical artisans – leaving them with a level of depth and artistry that is sorely lacking in so much of the cookie-cutter music that is popular today.
This may be the first album from Tiny Boats, but it is actually not the first time that the members have worked together. Jason and Jesse previously worked on a number of songs under the name of Herod the Fink. I don’t know why they chose to work under a new name on this project, but it was a good choice, as Tiny Boats reflects a maturity that leaves the old “Herod the Fink” tracks sounding pretty amateurish by comparison. This album represents a new beginning for them – not because they have abandoned their “old” sound, but because they have perfected it and taken it to an entirely different level.
Stylistically – where to begin? American and European folk, rock, pop, indie rock, even a little country and punk… somehow all rolled together in a fairly dramatic, sometimes theatrical format. At times they sound very “retro”, as if they were straight out of the early days of rock, and at other times they sound very progressive, even reminiscent of rock legends such as Rush. Still other times they flirt with modern pop rock sounds that typify bands such as Imagine Dragons, and still other times they bring to mind the quirky folk inspired sounds of Midas Whale.
The album production seems thoughtfully done, with layer after layer of sounds alternating with stripped down, intimate sections of music. The songs are dynamic from start to finish, and the fusion of many styles keeps the project interesting from one song to the next.
While some songs are certainly stronger or more enjoyable than others, I didn’t really feel that there were any “fluff” songs on the album – each song seems to hold it’s own. The first song on the album – “Burn in the Sun”- is a fantastic song that provides a very strong opening to the album, and quickly makes my favorites list. Next up is “Being and Doing” which brings to mind the “Rush” sound I mentioned previously. Midway through the album, the song “I Built These Walls” borders on chaotic at times as they push the boundaries of their eclectic style, starting with a slow, intimate, and produced sound and then working their way into a high speed, less polished “garage band” type of sound and then alternating back and forth several times between these two incredibly different styles. Strangely enough, they seem to do it with ease. As they dive into “We Waited for Sunshine” they give off a retro vibe reminiscent of the late 50’s and early 60’s. Skipping ahead to “Polaris”, they have a melancholy sound that is very sparse at some times, and richly layered at other times, with a creative approach to the production that helps it stand out on the album – this was definitely another favorite of mine. The album ends with “Broken Vessels” – a fast paced song that seems to blend folk and punk, a sound that is certainly a big part of their “signature” sound.
I mentioned earlier that my attempt at reviewing this album left me humbled, stupefied, and inspired. The stupefied part is that there is so much to say about this album that I’m at a loss for words. How do I communicate the interesting blend of styles? The very dramatic and theatrical moments in their arrangements? The way they effortlessly shift between a stripped down and intimate feel and a highly produced, layered feel? The genuine songs that are not written from formulas, but are written from the heart? I can only say – give it a listen.
As for being humbled, I sincerely am. Frankly, I was not a huge fan of “Herod the Fink”, (sorry guys!) and despite Jason’s long history with music and recording, my impression is that he is still a relative newcomer in the world of recording and producing. I’m humbled because his production work certainly doesn’t sound like that of a newcomer at all, but that of a seasoned pro. The passion and honesty of the songs are not lost in the production: at times, I can hear the little “human” elements in their performances that come from real musicians, which I truly enjoy. Clearly, as musicians and also as a production team, Tiny Boats is not afraid of blazing their own trail and doing so with style.
But mostly, I’m inspired. In this day and age of “bubble gum” pop, and cookie-cutter production, Tiny Boats offers a refreshing experience that draws on great musical inspirations from the past, and packages them boldly, with a modern sound and style all their own. With a fairly average voice, a home studio, and a band made up of only 2 people, Tiny Boats has created something special – not with gimmicks, but with good writing, good production, and obvious passion.
Tiny Boats isn’t “just” an album, it’s art.
Learn more about Tiny Boats and sample their music at http://tinyboatsofficial.com
By Matt Mylroie of Driftwood Tide Music