North Atlantic Explorers: All The Ships At Sea
All The Ships At Sea is a concept album, but it's not heavy-handed in the way one oriented around grandiose mythological themes and Tolkien-esque fantasy characters would be. Instead, Vancouverite Glenn D'Cruze drew for inspiration from his father's life at sea, with all but one of its thirteen instrumentals titled after ships on which his father sailed as a member of the Merchant Marines while based in Glasgow during the ‘50s (the thirteenth is a cover treatment of Ronald Binge's “Sailing By,” which accompanied the BBC Radio's late-night shipping forecast). Such a concept is effective not only for how it unifies the recording but also for infusing it with a personal dimension rooted in family history and tinged with affection. It's not the first time D'Cruze has adopted the nautical theme, either, as attested to by the 2014 release of My Father Was A Sailor.
Though he's joined on the recording by a number of guests, All The Ships At Sea feels very much like a solo affair, with D'Cruze credited with writing the material and recording much of it at home. If there's a second-in-command, it's Jonathan Anderson, who contributed a number of sounds, among them guitar, loops, and pedal steel, as well as additional recording, mixing, and mastering. Sam Davidson's clarinet is also a defining element, and on a representative piece such as “Martaban,” his woodsy tone deepens the heartfelt quality of North Atlantic Explorers' music. Adding to the project's character is the visual presentation, in particular a cover painting that's the kind of thing one would naturally see hanging in an historical nautical museum.
While every setting presents a slightly different portrait, they're united by their creator's melodic style and his affinity for understated arrangements rich in synthetic and acoustic sounds. Graceful, piano-based melodies are central to the music's soundworld, but electric piano, synthesizers, and drum machine-styled beats are present, too. Adding to the recording's appeal is that D'Cruze's oft-intimate music very much assumes the character of a home recording, and a wistful quality infuses pieces such as “Saint Aidan” and “Agate.” Certainly one standout is “Sapphire” for the way it brings together all of the strengths of the project and provides Davidson with one of his best clarinet spotlights. If there's an anomalous track, it's “Lapwing,” whose raw guitar playing and aggressive attack seems out of character with the rest of the recording.All The Ships At Sea is a very likable recording possessing no small amount of charm, yet its impact is diminished by two things: some of the pieces play more like vignettes that might have benefited from more development; and, relatedly, its twenty-nine-minute total makes it seem closer to an EP or mini-album than full-length (“Renfrew” and “Agate,” to cite two instances, feels like they're just getting started before they end). A recording in the vicinity of thirty-five or forty minutes would have made the result feel more substantial and complete; on the other hand, there's something to be said for a recording that leaves the listener wanting more rather than grumbling over bloat and excess.