Album Review: Chris Wollard + the Ship Thieves – “Canyons”

A word of caution to the reader here: things may get a little nostalgic (and more than a little self-indulgent) for a second. Bear with me.

If I haven’t said it in passing enough over the last couple of years of review and news writing here at Dying Scene, allow me to make one point abundantly clear: man cannot live on a steady diet of Marshall stacks and Les Pauls alone. There was a time in decades past when I would have found such a statement to be utterly blasphemous. But as the hair greys and the priorities change and the responsibilities shift, some of the piss-and-vinegar contained in the angst-ridden anthems of days gone by has diluted a bit as life has become more complex.

Thankfully, I’m obviously not alone in this shift. If there has been one trend that I’ve been most into over the past half-dozen-or-so years, it’s the broadening of musical horizons of a lot of the punk community, particularly amongst artists who were so vital in the skate punk and post-hardcore movements for so long. Pop-punkers and skate-punkers and post-hardcore punkers alike have traded in their their plugged-in rigs and gone the way of the acoustic highwayman, creating a new generation of post-Dylan folk troubadours, many times finding broader crossover success from segments had either moved on from their punk days or weren’t familiar with them in the first place.

Chris Wollard has gone in a different direction. The equally-intense, though somewhat less ‘werewolfian,’ half of Hot Water Music’s co-frontman attack, draws heavy influence from the dirty swamp blues of his native Gainesville for his Chris Wollard + the Ship Thieves project. Canyons, due November 6th via Gainesville’s own No Idea Records,  marks the band’s second release, though it features a different lineup than their 2009 debut. Wollard still covers vocal duties and trades layer upon layer of guitar licks with Addison Burns, but the rhythm section is now rounded out by veterans Chad Darby (Hawks and Doves) on bass and Bobby Brown (nope, not that one) on drums. The result is a more focused step forward.

While the band’s 2009 debut full-length had its moments were it sounded at times like a solo, side project, Canyons sounds every bit like a full band project. Hot Water Music fans will instantly recognize Wollard’s trademark gritty, smoke-infused baritone, which sounds as right at home in the muck and mire that Canyons contains at times as it does during his “day job” project. The Ship Thieves are very much a modern-day, post punk guitar rock band, as the interplay between Wollard and Burns is where the band carves out its own identity. The album really shines in those moments that draw from the band’s roadhouse blues influences. The opening track, “Dream In My Head,” is a textbook Southern rock (but in a good way) influenced post-punk track that finds Wollard and Burns trading swapping guitar riffs that would make Molly Hatchet proud. “Runaway Train” follows in much the same vein evoking imagery of, well, of a runaway train.

Alas, grimy swampside blues bars are not the only places from whence Canyons spawns. “Heavy Rolling Thunder,” “Zyzoutta” and “Crawl” bring to mind the sort of layered, post-punk alternative rock sound that Samiam trademarked (and perfected on last year’s criminally underrated Trips). “Lonely Days” is an acoustic highway-wandering song, a song that is very much Chris Wollard and yet would in its own way would fit in nicely in the Chuck Ragan solo catalog. “Never Have Time,” and “Dream in My Head” for that matter, would not sound out of place on either of Chris Shiflett’s last two solo releases (the former as Jackson United, the latter for his Dead Peasants project).

Despite its late-in-the-year release status, Canyons has instantly become one of my favorite albums of the year. Unlike a lot of the aforementioned newer projects of the punk rock staples of the last decade or so, Canyons is a great driving album; like any great guitar-driven album, it sounds better the louder you play it, providing the perfect soundtrack for logging the highway miles required by those added responsibilities and changing priorities that come with being a punk rock grown up.

4.5/5 stars


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