The Paddle Boat – The Paddle Boat (Review)

2009, Single Screen Records

As a live band, San Diego’s The Paddle Boat have built a reputation not only as excellent performers, but as a rare alternative in an oftentimes homogenized music scene. Drawing from, among other things, early 20th century folk and jazz, the eccentric trio can’t help but stand out in a sea of rock and rollers. Now the group is bestowing their first release upon the public—a 7-inch single aptly titled The Paddle Boat—but does the record capture the many facets that make the band a diamond in the San Diego rough?

“B-Side of a Life”—the record’s ironically titled A-side—opens with Jane Weibel’s sauntering clarinet being buoyed by Jackson Milgaten’s bubbly bass line. The retro-style production lends Jeremy Scott’s vocals a vintage, sang-through-a-megaphone feel that is as cheeky as it is charming. But lest the listener begin to suspect they are spinning one of their grandfather’s old 78’s, lyrics like “See the daisies fucking on their tiptoes / Disillusioned every time the wind blows” should assuage any concerns.

“Everything”, the disc’s B-side, is a more downbeat affair, anchored by three-part harmonies, finger snaps, and the subtly surreal slides of Scott’s guitar. Unexpected mixing choices add depth to the crisp production, placing the vocals in surprising places that make each repetition of the chorus sound unique.

The band’s eye for detail even extends to the record sleeve: each copy of the 7-inch is adorned with a different cover hand-made by The Paddle Boat themselves. Most bands would never bother to put such time and care into their packaging, but The Paddle Boat go even further, including a bonus CD that contains the two songs from the 7-inch as well as two bonus tracks.

“A Little Time” places Tom Waits-ian garage-racket percussion behind a sea of tropical leads, breathy harmonies, and sparsely plucked acoustic guitar. Penitent lullaby “Should’ve Seen This Coming” is a similarly subdued affair, and what the brief track may lack in immediacy it makes up for with its intimate, confessional tone.

One of The Paddle Boat’s strengths is that they draw from a wider spectrum of influences than typical bands, synthesizing various genres and eras into an engaging sound that feels timeless and lived-in. If there is a complaint to be made about their debut, it is that there isn’t enough room on its seven inches to fit all of the songs that followers of the group’s performances have come to know and love. Luckily, the band has plans to record a full-length album in Portland next month, which ought to solve that problem quite nicely. In the meantime, The Paddle Boat serves as a discreet and assured introduction to one of San Diego’s most exciting bands.

“B-Side Of A Life” from The Paddle Boat:

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