Portland-based Small Leaks Sink Ships have returned with their new studio album — their first in over six years — sharing the sprawling and manic Low Tide. The record reveals they’re still guided by creating experimental art pop, melding with synthesized tones and textures, with radiant instrumentals. It also serves as the follow-up to their 2017 indie rock-charged album Golden Calf.
The four-piece outfit comprises multi-instrumentalists London Van Rooy, Judd Hancock, Jim Mandel, and Ryan Garner. Drawn together by their admiration for Minus the Bear and Modest Mouse and the avant-garde work of the Mars Volta, the quartet announced their arrival in 2007 with their debut Until the World is Happy; Wake up You Sleepyhead Sun.
But before finding a foothold, a series of hurdles placed themselves before the fledgling band. In 2010, Garner was almost killed in a motorcycle accident, while just a year later, Hancock received a cancer diagnosis. Yet that wasn’t enough to keep Small Leaks Sink Ships out of the studio, making their exceptionally cathartic music. As both band members made their long road to recovery, they released two LPs and one EP.
Low Tide both reminisces and mulls heartily over the band’s journey up to this point. All ten tracks coalesce around the shared joy and awe of finding themselves at a place from which to optimistically look back at both the highs and lows they’ve shared. From its jubilantly off-kilter opening song “Aeiou,” a jumble of rapt cries and tumbling percussion, to the earnestly soaring and hopeful “I Luv the Valley OH!”
Written and recorded over five long years, the album features all the emotive hallmarks that have come to define Small Leaks Sink Ships and a few surprises. Their inspired cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” is in that latter category, reworked into a shuddering exchange of radiant electronics and a captivating layering of ecstatic vocals.
If this is your first encounter with the band, it’s best to let yourself drift aimlessly within their ever-changing melodic soundscapes. Allowing them to envelop you in their ruminative clamors of sound, as on the emotionally roiling “My Brother’s Father.” Elsewhere, you might find yourself buoyed by their stirring penchant for emphatic sonics — which explode invigoratingly on songs like “Floating” or rush in and out of tranquil nothings in “Slow Down.”
Words: Steven Ward
Listen to Low Tide the new album from Small Leaks Sink Ships below!