The Liberty Ship, a four-piece from Nottingham, England, play the kind of sparkling pop music conceived in intimate spaces. Alight with intelligent references and tangible feeling, not sentiment, it recalls Blueboy's sensitive indie-pop exemplar: "I am young and I am not cynical." Tide, the band's full-length debut, draws from the eloquence of pop (The Go-betweens and Pale Fountains) as well as its consonant jangle (Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and The Bluebells).
It is the kind of skyward, brilliant pop music that happened but was largely unclaimed, save for those who loved it. A secret happening of shimmering guitars, fanzines and badges with band names, it was an early '80s thing, spilling over into the '90s, that went largely overlooked by the mainstream music press. Sarah, Esurient Communication, Postcard and Creation are a few of the labels considered a signature of that fond, initiate time. Alistair Fitchett, longtime pop affectionate and designer for several Esurient sleeves, assays the elements with capital letters. Spirit. Pop. Magic. Young and Foolish: A Personal Pop Odyssey, Fitchett's musical diary of sorts, is as reflective as it is communal: "You see for me this is what matters. Not so much the noises themselves, but the way they affect and effect changes to the everyday, how they make the extraordinary out of the ordinary."
Tide is likewise thoughtful and unassuming, just what you might expect
from Marc Elston (vocals, guitar), onetime songwriter in the band Bulldozer Crash.
Of course it is an album of practiced guitar pop. However, softer, less protected
turns of self-reflection are also in evidence, often made more winning when Rachel
Eyres (vocals, guitar) is at the front, especially "Final Kick" and "Stars Above." The
former, a wistful trade-off, reveals the ache of hanging on, approaching the
matchless tread of both Grant McLennan and Stuart Murdoch. "Stars Above," written
and sung by Eyres, is ingenue fare with a folky rave-up: "She's praying and placing
her hopes on the stars above/ 'Cos what is a life/ Tell me what is a life without
love." Throughout Eyres is attendantly pretty, like Isobel Campbell or Pam Berry,
while Elston is reminiscent of Roddy Frame's open ease.
"Baseball Caps and Novas" is one of the standouts, social query with a Rickenbacker gloss: "Can you give me any reason/ Why you find modern life displeasing/ And you find your journey's paved with broken glass/ And smashed up bones?" A cool tambourine alongside Tim Wade's punchy bass line and Steve Mietlinski's lively percussion is heady fun. "Cabin Fever" is also of note. Warding off another's unspooling at sea is an unlikely agent of literate pop, but it works well here: "Young man sailor boy beware/ Infected with the madness captains knew too well/ When cabin fever gets to you/ The sun comes crying from the deep."
"Yuri Gagarin" is a novelty closer but in a good way, enjoying the curves and shapes of electronica in the same way the Field Mice did. A storied cosmonaut launches amid keyboards, punctuating bass fuzz and flowering sounds.
Tide is an excellent reading of modern pop's fervent, badge-trading beginnings, heartful and versed. It is no surprise then that the Liberty Ship have found themselves at Matinee, a prestige indie-pop label that counts the Lucksmiths among its international roster and recently pressed the final Fairways recording. Such residency can only lead to better records from the Liberty Ship, a band whose melodies are equal to their expressiveness.