How the Ship Goes Down is the debut EP from nautically themed Austin act Whalers. I know what you are thinking: "Oh boy, yet another Austin band." And i feel your pain -- what is it about that scene that seems to spawn so many things that we review here? Itís a mystery.
Whalers are a sort of retro rock act, meaning that they have a classic five person (two guitars with lead singer, drums, and bass) lineup and the guitar is forefront, echoed and tremolo-y, weighted down with a mass of old-fashioned distortions. But it is the voice that draws my attention. The vocalist is one Gus Smalley (a good name for a rock singer, i think), and he is obviously a man who has listened to his early Rolling Stones records. His voice leaps around, jumping from syllable to syllable in sometimes unexpected ways. He draws some words out and shortens others in a manner that really reminds me of the work of Mr. Jagger. This is a good thing, really.
The EP starts out with I Slept With Her Too in which tremoloed guitars whirl while Mr. Smalley sings about Mick Jagger, more or less. However, Smalley does something different with his voice on the next track, Magic Tricks. Here he sings in a higher pitch, almost whiney, with the voice almost buried in shining guitars in a manner reminiscent of the first Magic Bullets album. This combination really works.
On the wonderfully titled Sunsets Suck, Whalers get their post-punk on. The bass and drums are vaguely dubby, and the guitars sound more Gang of Four than Stones for a nice change of pace. Heatwave is a slower song with less guitar distortion. It moves along nicely enough with a happy melody and e-bowed guitar.
Sell Out reminds me of new wave. The drums are more forceful and the rhythm guitar is crunchy, while the lead is echoed. The mid tempo, the forceful drums, and the dueling guitarwork reminds me a lot of early INXS, or perhaps the New Zealand act Jean-Paul Sartre Experience. Not enough people channel the guitarwork of Timmy Farris, dammit.
Eviction takes us back to the 1960s, with a happy back-beat and thunked bass riff over chiming guitars. There is a backing vocal part here that gives an overall effect of Phil Spector producing a vocal harmony group. Normally when you hear this kind of stuff these days, it's all female voices, but Whalers remind us that there was a male vocal harmony trend in the 60s too, and they do it pretty well. Finally Whalers wrap up with That Rabbit, which continues the general Spectorishness of the previous tune, but cranking up the tempo and the paranoia. This is an energetic tune that moves along tensely.
On the whole, this is a good debut EP. The band has promise, and i like what they are doing with the way they record their sound. I think that the recording that they use here really works for the types of songs that they have written.