When The Paddle Boat first began to play shows in San Diego, no one knew quite what to make of them. Their hushed aesthetic tended to be too quiet for bars and their century-spanning influences too diverse for easy categorization, but the band nevertheless built a reputation as one of the cityâ€™s finest live acts. Seasoned performers though they might be, the band’s recorded output has until now been sparse, consisting of only the four songs from the self-titled EP they released earlier this year.
In its eleven brief minutes, the EP demonstrated that The Paddle Boat were able to flourish within the recorded idiom, utilizing savvy production to add dimension to their already rich sound. But it remained to be seen how the band would fare over the course of an entire album. Now, the group has released I Wonder if the Water Ever Tires of the Sea?, their full-length debut and the true test of whether The Paddle Boat can be as enthralling a recorded band as they are a live one.
Following a bizarre intro comprising spectral moaning and vinyl hiss, â€œCotillianâ€ sets the tone for the rest of the album. Jane Weibelâ€™s serpentine clarinet slithers around Jeremy Scottâ€™s ethereal vocals and atonal guitar, punctuated by moments of random chaos as the song gleefully deconstructs and rebuilds itself. â€œAirconditioned Nightmareâ€ announces its arrival more forcefully, thanks to prominent vocals placed atop a swanky shuffle. â€œSo glad you taught me to think that all this time I was doing it wrongâ€, Scott sings on one of the albumâ€™s many enigmatic exchanges. The meanings behind Scott’s lyrics are frequently opaque, and the Lynchian compositions only amplify the air of mystery.
A consistently solid but at times elusive album, I Wonder is peppered with highlights that up the ante and reward the listener for braving the slippery tracks. â€œThe Courseâ€ is the first such highlight, an immaculately executed gem of a song that abounds in memorable moments and inspired interludes. â€œSecret wishes always seem to come true even if you really didnâ€™t want them too / Wish them all away before they doâ€, Scott warns. The track piles layer after layer on top of his entreaties, ramping up the intensity as it careens toward a cathartic, haunting finish.
The following track, â€œCrazy Horse Medallionâ€, shines a much-deserved spotlight on Jane Weibelâ€™s top-shelf clarinet work. Equal parts vintage Tom Waits and Moroccan snake charmer, her instrument lends The Paddle Boatâ€™s songs an indispensable jazz club smokiness. â€œIâ€™ll never stray from you if you do exactly what I want you to all the timeâ€, Scott croons in typical wry fashion, backed by Weibel and Jackson Milgatenâ€™s solemn, increasingly ominous harmonies. The band cools things down on â€œDonâ€™t You Knowâ€, a tender, minimalist ballad anchored by its crestfallen lyrics and David Mead’s start-and-stop percussion.
The album takes an unexpected but brilliant turn with its cover of Thom Yorkeâ€™s â€œAtoms For Peaceâ€, which showcases the bandâ€™s gorgeous three-part harmonies and accomplishes the unlikely feat of besting Yorkeâ€™s version at every turn. â€œOne Legsâ€ is yet another standout, typifying the bandâ€™s sound with its jazzy percussion, confident but subdued pacing, and airtight harmonizing. â€œWeddingsâ€ and â€œHappy Birthday Lucasâ€ are reliably solid offerings, paving the way for the powerful one-two punch of the albumâ€™s final tracks.
â€œGoodbye Rainâ€ is a charming lullaby, made all the more memorable by its witty lyrics. The songâ€™s refrain of â€œGoodbye rain, goodbye, bye-bye / Reverse your ass and go back to the skyâ€ is as catchy as it is amusing, and Scottâ€™s guitar lines slide around the neck with a lazy Sunday warmth that would make Santo & Johnny jealous. The album comes to a stunning and unexpected close with â€œJust Like A Good Girl Shouldâ€, a sultry number that finds Weibel stealing the show with her lead vocal turn. Handing Weibel the microphone allows the rest of the band to tear into their respective instruments, gamely infusing the song with a feverish Latin flair. Everyone is in top form as Scottâ€™s fiery guitar work, Milgatenâ€™s sprawling bass lines, and Meadâ€™s expressive drumming guide the album in for a thrilling landing.
Thanks to its innovative songwriting and warm, flawless productionâ€”courtesy of Scott and Black Mambaâ€™s Keith Milgatenâ€”I Wonder if the Water Ever Tires of the Sea? is a richly textured and immensely satisfying debut. Its flashier moments never feel excessive and its quieter moments never sacrifice momentum. From beginning to end, the album is a confident statement of purpose from a band comfortable in its own skin, unafraid to let their songs breathe and flourish. With I Wonder if the Water Ever Tires of the Sea?, The Paddle Boat don’t just meet fan expectations for their debut, they raise them for their follow-up.
2009, Single Screen Records
Stream: “The Course” from I Wonder if the Water Ever Tires of the Sea?
2 thoughts on “Album Review: The Paddle Boat – ‘I Wonder if the Water Ever Tires of the Sea?’”
What's the tracklisting?!
Great remark – ‘Its flashier moments never feel excessive and its quieter moments never sacrifice momentum.’