Review: We Are Augustines – ‘Rise Ye Sunken Ships’

By Live4ever - Posted on 15 Nov 2010 at 6:35pm


In the days where too many bands stick to the high tempo, jangly guitar-driven template, a sound as distinctive and thought-provoking as that of the We Are Augustines should be revered for its invention.

Debut album ‘Rise Ye Sunken Ships’ is very much the proverbial phoenix from the flames for guitar strumming singer Billy McCarthy and multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson, with much of its material remaining from their previous incarnation as one half of New York outfit Pela.

The now-defunct quartet remained on the periphery of mainstream success in the US for five years before they went separate ways last year, by which time they had garnered a truly unusual and interesting sound. The new EP, due for release early next year, carries on in a similar vein but is more avant-garde.

Introspective in mood, it ventures into deep and dark places, reflecting on personal tragedy of McCarthy losing his brother to a destructive drug addiction. The heartbreak surrounding his death, which happened during the album’s two-year gestation, is the driving force behind ‘Book of James‘, the strongest song on the record.  And what a fitting tribute it is: from the moment you hear the first crack of the snare drum in the intro you are hooked, drawn along by its energy, stylish breakdowns and lyrical poignancy.

Recorded under the auspices of Dave Newfield – best known for his work with Broken Social Scene – it is bravely produced, making the most of atmospheric samples, layered off-the-wall guitar parts and intertwining drum patterns.

The album peaks early on with several well crafted, deeply evocative tracks. The sombre and rhythmic ‘Chapel Song’ kicks things off perfectly. The sinuous and haunting ‘Augustine‘, complete with visceral, truncated drum patterns and tasteful harmonies, is also a highlight, showing just what the band can do. McCarthy’s voice – so raw and unhinged it makes the lyrics incomprehensible at times – is the main attraction. His unorthodox vocal lines leave you hanging on to every word, feeling his anxiety and emotion.

A more relaxed vibe permeates the latter half of the record. Catchy chord progressions are ushered in over straightforward drum patterns, augmented with subtle touches such as strings on the moody ‘New Drink for the Old Drunk’ and the horns on the intricate and delicate ‘Strange Days’. The infectious ‘East Los Angeles’, characterised by its lazy guitar strumming and optimistic vocals, bring things to a tranquil conclusion.

All in all, We Are Augustines’ first foray as a two-piece is a successful one. Packed with unmistakable hooks and clever songwriting, it is a rewarding listen. There’s a real sincerity about it, not least due to McCarthy’s vocal delivery, which is complimented by an undying ear for the melody, but above all it is the originality that makes it a stand-out record. It will be exciting to hear how they build on such a promising start.

Download the excellent track Book of James free!

Read more about the band here:

(Luke Dixon)

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