I confess: when I first heard the name The Pirate Ship Quintet, I thought I’d be getting into an Alestorm knock-off. I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong. I like Alestorm, but the elegiac compositions The Pirate Ship Quintet have created was a very pleasant surprise. Their second full-length, Emitter (order the album on CD+2xLP here or digitally here), is a beautifully realised album of music that is by turns quiet and intimate, and yet as vast and expansive as the ocean.
The blend of music on display is extraordinary. The quintet make the kind of instrumental compositions that made Kaada famous, mixing beautiful cello-playing that would make Jo Quail jealous with a generous dash of guitars straight out of Long Distance Calling and their ilk. Out of that mix comes a proggy post-rock blend that pushes at the boundaries of the avant-garde in a manner that’s fresh and exciting without feeling overdone. The length of the compositions may be off-putting – “Companion” is nearly 17 minutes long – but the listeners’ patience is rewarded tenfold by the artistry of the compositions. “Companion” itself features a choir, hand-picked by Emily Hall, whose vocals add an eerie, dream-like atmosphere to the slow ebb and flow of guitar and cello motifs as the song slowly builds to its climax.
The title track is another excellent example. Over the course of its 12-minute run-time, listeners are treated to some incredibly beautiful saxophone playing. This comes courtesy of Andrew Hayes, saxophonist of Run Logan Run; the sax melody he creates is as mournful as it is free-wheeling. As the guitars and drums build a hefty, dramatic crescendo that would have Long Distance Calling drooling, he brings his signature spiritual jazz abilities to the fore, supercharging an already emotionally-fraught climax.
This is one group that’s not afraid to walk the musical plank.
It segues neatly into “Fifth”, a meditative interlude that feels almost improvised, such is the easy interplay between Sandy Bartai on cello, and Alphie Matthews and Alex Hobbs on guitar. There are five such interludes, including the opening and closing tracks. “First” sets up the yin/yang contrasts of light vs heavy and soft vs loud around which the album is built, but beyond this, the interludes mainly act as breathing spaces between the longer pieces. It can feel at times as if the audience needs that: imagine the pauses between the movements of a classical symphony and you’re on the right track.
None of this would be possible without the excellent chemistry the musicians exhibit. Take “Symmetry is Dead”. Hobbs and Matthews’ guitars provide a strong melody, grounded by Jonathan Sturgess’ drums. Thanks to Bartai’s gorgeous cello, it is at times just as pensive a song as the rest of the album, but when the guitars build towards the climax, it’s clear that this one belongs to Hobbs and Matthews. Bartai’s cello is woven into that climax to give it more of an emotional heft, but it’s mainly a Hobbs & Matthews show as they create a doom-laden version of Long Distance Calling’s best moments in the space of two minutes.
Where their previous album was dogged by the problems of geography, this has been overcome for Emitter. The guest musicians also deserve their own mention in this regard: guest musicians can sometimes stand out very prominently, or even jar with the main line-up. This is very fortunately not the case here, all guests gelling seamlessly with the musicians. Ultimately, it falls to me to stop hyperbolising and beg you, readers, to listen to Emitter yourselves. Don’t be disappointed that The Pirate Ship Quintet aren’t Alestorm. Do not be put off by the long run-time of the songs. Put some good headphones on, and let this album wash over you. You’ll be very glad you did.
Thanks to these musicians, “Symmetry Is Dead”.
Emitter Track Listing:
08. Symmetry is Dead
Run Time: 60:47
Release Date: March 29, 2019
Record Label: Denovali Records & Sound Devastation Records