Tomorrow We Sail: The Shadows
Gizeh Records

Without ever lapsing into over-complexity, Tomorrow We Sail flirts with both prog-rock and post-rock on its sophomore album. Four years on from the Leeds-based sextet's debut set For Those Who Caught the Sun in Flight, the new release resembles some hypothetical Pink Floyd-meets-Sigur Ros project with some degree of folk factoring in as well. Drummer Alistair Hay does his best Nick Mason for much of it, while the group itself indulges in the dramatic contrasts in dynamics so characteristic of the esteemed Icelandic outfit. And though Tomorrow We Sail is hardly a folk act, some strain of it definitely emerges in the band's penchant for chanted vocalizing and pastoral, strings-laden writing. Joining the drummer in the group are Tim Hay (guitar, piano), Ella Blake (guitar, piano, harmonium, harp), Matt Clarke (guitar, keyboard, Hammond organ, glockenspiel), Angela Chan (viola, violin), and Tom Ilett (bass guitar). All but Alistair sing on the release, with Tim and Ella handling lead on different tracks.

Seven pieces are indexed, but the album plays like a thirty-eight-minute suite, with a strong emphasis on peaks and valleys. As The Shadows unfolds, its oft-solemn music alternates between declamatory aggression and hushed delicacy, the latter as powerful if not more than the former. In the louder moments, the group collectively vocalizes, resulting in a husky, masculine sound; during the quieter passages, Blake's lovely voice is often at the forefront, and when it's accompanied by Chan's strings the music rises to an affecting swoon. Lyrically, the songs deal with issues of vulnerability, hope, defiance, homeward longing, and unity (during “The Golden Elevator,” Tim and Ella memorably pronounce, “If anything's been lost, it's togetherness”), but truth be told it's the musical presentation you'll likely attend to more than the words.

“Side By Side” opens the release on a graceful note, the tempo slow and violin prominently featured alongside Tim's voice; it doesn't take long, however, for the group's aggressive side to assert itself: at two minutes, the music briefly explodes and thereafter alternates between soft and loud sections, all of it delivered with heartfelt conviction. Up next, “Home Fires” opens memorably with unison male and female voices sharing the lead, after which the full band enters to support the vocalists with a lulling backdrop that alternately soar and soothes. The material grows ever more elegiac with the advent of the title track, whose gorgeous uplift receives no small boost from Blake's fragile lead and majestic chiming guitars that might have you thinking of Hammock as much as Sigur Ros. If there's a peak moment, it's arguably “To Sleep,” which, like the title track, derives its power from the haunting beauty of the composition, the tasteful restraint of the arrangement, and Blake's achingly tender vocal.

As plaintive as The Shadows is, it's not without a biting moment or two, “The Ghost of John Maynard Keynes” a case in point; the album's never as heavy as something like Master of Reality or Master of Puppets, say, but the scalding guitar work and thudding pulse that animate the track are still heavy enough. “The Golden Elevator” concludes the release on a quietly triumphant note, with Tim and Ella uniting a final time in a tune that's not a little bewitching, especially when the arrangement threads guitars, strings, and glockenspiel into a rousing finale. It's a spectacular finish to an album that definitely earns its recommendation and then some. Some albums impress immediately but wear out their welcome over time; The Shadows, on the other hand, is one that sounds better with each revisitation.

March 2018