Tomorrow We Sail - For Those Who Caught The Sun In Flight

by Steve Rhodes Rating:6.5 Release Date:2014-02-10

Formed in 2009, Leeds-based seven-piece Tomorrow We Sail have periodically released EPs over the past four years, hinting at elements of grounded folk, pastoral post-rock and etheriel other-worldliness. With their geographical connection and with members who have played live and on record with Glissando, A-Sun Amissa and The Rustle of the Stars project, it's unsurprising that their debut album, For Those Who Caught the Sun in Flight, shares a home on Gizeh Records. While not aping the other bands on the roster, it certainly shares a keen aesthetic with their recent releases.

Opener 'The Well and the Tide' sets the stall with shimmering, effects-laden guitars and haunting piano. Tim Hay's vocals, like a mix of David Sylvian meets Lloyd Cole via David Martin, appear partway through along with a wistful violin. The song builds, with the vocal taking a more triumphant tone and the instrumentation rising in pace, tension and force before fading to a reflective close, leading to a near-accapella ending. A beautiful song with a nod to The xx in the use of space between notes, it comes across as a more understated and natural, orchestral version of fellow Leeds-dwellers iLikeTrains.

'Eventide' follows suit, with its unhurried pace and harmonious use of guitar, strings, piano and percussion. A dramatic and emotional number which neatly closes with a delightful, unaccompanied piano. Whereas the mix between Tim's vocal and the instrumentation on the opener works, it suffers here, with a vocal that drifts into Joe Jackson and Olde-English folk territory, far too forced and over-accentuated. It is such a shame as it's a beautifully realised and fully-formed composition which feels let down by a superfluous lead vocal.

Thankfully, there is no such issue with 'Never Goodbye' and 'Testament', where Ella May Blake takes the lead. The former maintains the sedate pace with just a piano for company to begin with, before launching into a fully-fledged and yearning number partway through, with strings and drums taking more precedence. The latter possesses an eerie atmosphere, with a delayed and spacious guitar neatly blending with Elly May's mystical vocal, which hints at Kate Bush and Bat for Lashes, with the whole ensemble reminiscent of the best work of Gregor Samsa.

The instrumental 'December' breaks away from much of the album, taking a far darker stance, with  haunting violins, an escalating lead guitar and chilling atmospherics, forming an expectant and unsettling build-up into an apocalyptic close. The resemblance to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's 'Blaise Bailey Finnegan III' is a little too close for comfort, but it still remains a decent, transitional song which neatly divides the album.

Despite strong musicianship and luscious moments within several songs, there is a constant, niggling problem with the album. The pace is far too languid, shifting too infrequently, meaning that the songs struggle to distinguish themselves from each other and flaws and weaknesses seem more obvious. 'The White Rose' has chiming guitars, a mournful piano and heartfelt violins but barely strains beyond a maudlin backing, feeling too predictable.

Though the vocals are expressive (''You have brought the country to it's knees'', ''We will not be silent')', they drift dangerously close to Clannad-style inertia, and are lyrically sloganistic, to a point where listening feels like being lectured by sixth formers, dipping their toes into activism. The accapella ending, while well assembled, taking cues from Thee Silver Mount Zion, lacks impact and does little to aid the song. In addition, the track, like several on the album, is far too long.

Album closer 'For Rosa' likewise struggles to get out of gear, maintaining the snail-pace formula, like a sleepwalking Strange Death of Liberal England, with just a darker aura and the nice addition of brass in places to differentiate itself. Initially plodding and leaden, it thankfully breaks free, taking on added depth and opening out with descending instrumentation that works far better with the vocals.

The last few minutes are definitely worth hanging for, finally becoming more expressive and explosive. Though the band have clearly left it a little too late to convey this much emotion, which the album has been crying out for throughout, it is at least a very welcoming and rewarding finale.

An often beautiful but somewhat frustrating listen, For Those Who Caught the Sun in Flight is a confident album full of immaculate instrumentation and carefully attuned vocals which tries to engage the listener throughout but ultimately falls just short. With a little more refinement, energy and rawness, and a trimming of song length from time to time, Tomorrow We Sail can build on their positives and propel themselves out of their comfort zone into somewhere more fulfilling.

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