It’s been a while since we last heard an LP from Tall Ships. The most recent album from the English rock group was Everything Touching, released back in October 2012. After that, the band members stepped away from the music scene for a few years, citing health and financial problems as their motivations. They didn’t return till 2015, when they released two singles (“Will to Life” and “Meditations on Loss”) and showed that their departure was not an ending but a hiatus. Now Tall Ships is back for real with Impressions, an album that sees the band transitioning from its math rock origins to a more traditional indie rock style that radiates both honesty and optimism.
Overall, Impressions is a musically intelligent record. This becomes evident as soon as you listen to “Road Not Taken,” its epic opener. A six-minute song that starts quietly and ends with a spectacular crescendo, it’s definitely not a conventional first track—but it’s the perfect setup for the songs that follow. As any first track should, it teaches you how to listen to the rest of the album: in this case, with appreciative patience, a fondness for both small details and grandeur, and an ear for dynamic changes. That’s right—the Tall Ships guys really love a good dynamic change, and they’re not afraid to show it. That’s a wonderful thing here. Every crescendo and decrescendo sounds well-placed rather than forced, and definitely makes the album more exciting.
In addition, Impressions does a stellar job of showing off Tall Ships’ vocal and instrumental skills. Its upbeat, radio-friendly songs (e.g. “Will to Life”) are entertaining, and so are its more delicate numbers (e.g. “Lost & Found”), but the band is most enthralling during its darkest tracks, “Meditations on Loss” and “Sea of Blood.” The former is fast-paced and powered by the kind of intense percussion and guitars that would go well with an action-packed music video. The latter features slower, resounding drums and an ethereal vibe that conjures up images of a “tall ship” sailing regally through wind and mist. Both songs show that Tall Ships can craft a truly immersive, haunting world when it wants to.
Another impressive aspect of Impressions is its lyrics. On some albums, every verse and chorus is a series of cliches with the odd anecdote or metaphor thrown in as an attempt to secure a sense of profundity. Thankfully, Impressions is not one of those albums. The lyrics shine with genuine insight and originality, capturing emotions with creative configurations of carefully chosen words. One of the best examples of songwriting on the album is “Petrichor.” Judging by its title, which refers to the pleasant smell that sometimes follows a rainfall, you might expect the song to be overly sentimental, but Tall Ships isn’t that obvious. Instead, the lyrics discuss petrichor as nothing but “an illusion of beginning again” in a “world of pallid abstractions.” Another lyrically interesting track is “Will to Life,” which opens with the straightforward statement, “We’re all dying together” and unfolds into a testament to the power of love in the midst of confusion. It is one of many songs on the album that skillfully serve as a vehicle for positivity, embodying the band’s triumphant never-back-down spirit. In a world where too many bands with “arena-ready” sounds rely on volume and bombast to win over crowds, Tall Ships’s effort to convey earnest messages in a way that hasn’t been done before is certainly commendable.
If Impressions has a fault, it’s the fact that not every song on the album has memorable, distinctive melodies and hooks. In particular, although the songs in the middle of the track list contain some beautiful moments, when listened to in succession, they flow together a little too easily. It’s no wonder that “Will to Life” and “Meditations on Loss” were the album’s two singles; together, they give the impression (no pun intended) that the album is a bit more varied than it actually is. This is all to say that on Impressions, there is sometimes too much space between the times when the listener is transported from a state of casual enjoyment to a state of awe. Don’t think that this is a dismissal of the album’s quality, though—it certainly isn’t. When the band flies, it soars gracefully. The gorgeous riff of “Home,” the explosion of sound near the end of “Road Not Taken,” and the resounding intro of “Sea of Blood” are just a few of the many gems that prove that this is so.
All in all, Impressions is a solid comeback for Tall Ships. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait so long for the next installment in the band’s journey, for the band is sure to produce some fascinating material if it continues to experiment and dig into universal emotions.