Words by Jake Muncy
Photos by Ashley Bradley
When I enter Holy Mountain for the Silver Ships album release party, it’s to the pied-piper seduction of a viola melody. It’s full of the sort of emotional resonance that easily soars through the instrument, blended with guitars and drums, and as I find my place in front of the stage it bleeds into something hooky and infectious. This is the work of Bike Thief, an art rock band hailing from Portland, OR who warmed up the crowd in advance of Silver Ships’ set.
I was late to the show, as our lovely city’s bus system decided Wednesday evening it felt like delivering me emotional anguish, but my anxiety and frustration melted away as soon as I heard Bike Thief play. I was only able to catch the tail end of their set, but what I heard was fascinating; taking influence from maximalist indie rock like Arcade Fire, Bike Thief threw everything they had at the stage, Ferbian Perez’s vocals, which have a nice classic rock bite to them, and Greg Allen’s intermittent viola accompaniment leading the charge. A friend of mine commented to me that there was something post-rock-y about their vibe, and it seemed a good way to put it. Bike Thief manages a highwire act between post-rock grandeur and power pop hooks, a trick of dexterity they pull off fantastically on stage as well as on their recent full length, Stuck in a Dream. I’m disappointed I didn’t catch their full set, and I look forward to seeing them next time they make their way down south.
No matter how many friends you invite or how many other bands play the stage, however, album release parties are all about the headliner, even moreso than a normal show, and there was a palpable sense of joy as Silver Ships took the stage. The band has a nice sense of the theatrical, which was evident throughout the event—a photographer outside (“Can I take your picture?!” is not how I’m used to starting out my shows, but I could get used to it), programs on the tables—and Chazz Bessette’s presence on stage started with a lift-off style countdown (“5…4…3…”) that he seemed to relish. This was, after all, the culmination of a long period of work. Best take a moment to soak it in.
The release of Songs From a Room That Never Moves was a culmination of what Bessette described on stage as a three-year process. The album is aggressively lo-fi, the vast majority of the band’s lush sound recorded and cut by Bessette himself on tape, without the aid of computers. It gives the recording the muted, tinny sound around the edges that plays in an interesting contrast to Silver Ships’ vibrant sound.
On stage, though, Silver ships is all polish, performing as a six-piece band with every moving part in place, well rehearsed and playful in equal turns. I didn’t know Silver Ships very well prior to the album release, and I often find it difficult to really dig into the performances of unfamiliar bands, not sure precisely what to hang my focus on, but that wasn’t a problem here. Their sound blends twangy country musical structures with Beatles-esque melodic pop It’s warm, welcoming music, and it reminded me a bit of my recent time with Phil Ajjarapu’s Sing Along Until You Feel Better. Both artists have an effortless joy to them, though both combine it with a hint of melancholy in the lyrics.
“Summer’s gone, and it’s a shame,” Bessette sings on “Summer’s Gone,” the track of Silver Ships’ that struck me the hardest, what seemed like the best execution of their style. While I generally disagree with the sentiment on a few levels (summer is never ending, and we are all going to melt), this show made me want to believe it, if only for the duration of the song. Summer, after all, is where the sun’s brightest and, for many of us, where freedom feels the most within our reach. That’s not a symbol we like to see slip away, though celebrating the release of Songs From a Room That Never Moves was a nice way to send it off.