Part of the joy of Boats is their somewhat absurdist nature. Band leader and vocalist Mat Klachefsky has a habit of using surreal imagery in his lyrics, often leading the unwary into a series of dead ends. This time around they’re balanced out with some quite stark images, which along with a more refined musical approach finds the band reaching for something more.
Animated Gifs for example is a phenomenal piece of songwriting. If it’s been used on a twee indie track, then it’s here. Glockenspiel, trombone, and earnest choral interjections, every box is ticked. Which is not to say that Boats do anything by the book; their style is about as off-kilter as it gets. There could have been no better introduction to the album as it neatly condenses everything Boats do into a few highly charged minutes. There are plenty of throwaway nonsense lines, such as “oh mighty cufflink pincher”, but there’s pathos too if time is taken to decipher everything that Klachefsky spits out. Lines like “Here’s to the empty hallways, here’s to the makeshift kitchenettes” lends a sense of loneliness shifting beneath what is otherwise a joyous, ever twisting song.
Whilst Boats appear more polished, the energetic ramshackle anthem of Great Skulls seems keen to remind everyone that it’s not precision, but feeling that is important. That it occasionally drifts out of tune and nearly buckles under the weight of Klachefsky’s delivery merely adds to its charm. In its closing moments it changes from a fizzing hive of energy into a sunkissed ballad, eschewing its earlier full-on drive for something far more evocative.
Sad Legs shows off the pop sensibilities of the band. It might well bubble with electronic malevolence initially, but it quickly develops into a solid pop nugget. Just for a moment, Boats morph into The B52s, and it is to Klachefsky’s credit that he can harmonise with himself like Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson, and throw in a hint of Fred Schneider all within the space of a single song. When Sad Legs segues into O Telescope and he completely loses the plot, hollering like a loon, he’s simply adding yet another layer of unhinged strangeness to the album.
The buttoned down new wave rhythm of We Got Pillow And Blankets is neatly complimented by Klachefsky’s keen sense of melody, and his ability to slip between vocal registers over the course of a single line. Rare is a song that sums up a relationship with lines about broken computer parts and swallowing spiders, but when they come along, they’re worth cherishing. The simple lo-fi electro ballad We Got Tables And Chairs is another showcase of Boats quirky nature. The peculiar cosmic-rock guitar solo at the midpoint is a shock considering the contemplative nature of the synths and rickety drum track around it. Spend a little time with Boats however, and nothing is surprising; if a slight glitch feel or a whistled refrain appears out of nowhere, then so be it. It’s this attitude to songwriting that makes Boats so endlessly entertaining. This is a band just having fun and trying anything just because it might work. Usually it does and if it doesn’t, they leave it in anyway.
It’s the closing track The Salteen Coast that sees Boats really change moods and suggest that they might be maturing just a little. Introspective and simple, it clearly has pretensions of reaching for a higher truth but as always it’s obscured by strange yet affecting imagery. “On the Salteen coast we poked three holes into some garbage bags, and duct taped our sleeves and padded our knees, made out on the beach” sings Klachefsky. Whether it is the remembrance of a peculiar sexual encounter or something else is anyone’s guess, but it becomes rather poignant as the album fades away into a droning conclusion.