Tugboat Captain first emerged back in 2016, with the scratchy lo-fi of their debut album, The Tugboat Captain, recorded in the front-room of their student house-share, dubbed Ingelow Swate Threeps Studios, they were, in many ways the epitome of DIY. No producer, no budget, no label, a record indebted to the American indie-underground, they threw it out into the world and waited to see where the pieces landed. On reflection, these were barely finished snapshots of songs, yet there there was the hint of something special, a spark of creativity just starting to burn. Without changing their approach the band refined that initial potential into something more tangible on 2017’s brilliant second album, Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud, and courtesy of the surprise Reddit super-smash-hit (we’re still a little confused how that’s a thing), Don’t Want To Wake Up On My Own, the band started to make gentle waves. And the next step from there? Recording at Abbey Road of course!
Tomorrow marks the release of the band’s third album, Rut, released through Glasgow-label, Double-A Side Records, and ahead of that today we’re sharing the album in its entirety.
While Abbey Road might conjure up images of vast orchestras and huge budget recording, Tugboat Captain’s sessions sound thankfully more down to earth. Cobbling together an orchestra of friends and peers, working in free studio time whenever it became available, maximising every second available to produce something ambitious on a zero-budget DIY lifestyle. What’s really impressive is that they actually managed to pull it off.
Musically, Rut is a leap forward, they’ve always been fond of a huge communal crescendo, yet here they truly capture the expansive bombast their music was always crying out for. The influence of the Beatles might be writ-large over Rut, yet there’s more to this record than simply re-hashing the past, this is a re-imagination of modern DIY-pop as something gloriously hi-fi. Take opening track, Check Ur Health, at its heart there’s a gnarled, distorted electric guitar track, yet it’s repurposed with a Sgt. Peppers flourish, lush choral harmonies and swells of brass and strings. It briefly drops to nothing, before rushing back to a thrilling final crescendo as what sounds like the voices of an entire generation ask in unison, “is it only up from here?” It’s a hairs on the neck moment, the sound of a band coming good on all that potential.
It’s not just the music that’s changed here, the entire outlook of frontman, Alex Sokolow’s lyrics seems to have been turned on its head. If their first two records were focused almost entirely on the workings of the heart, here he casts his malaise wider, reflecting on the modern world, a generation who feel they lack control of their own lives and are robbed of the opportunities previously taken for granted. It’s a theme that bubbles to the surface throughout Rut, whether reveling in small victories on Day To Day, as Alex notes, “each day’s a success if I can pay for my own smokes” or struggling to accept the nine to five grind as, “all my friends are getting on with the best part of their lives, while I’m just drifting by”. The struggle of getting by is less a theme of the record as a constant, always finding its way to the surface, permeating every tale with a sobering reality check.
If that’s all sounding a little too melancholic, worry not, as always Tugboat Captain are a band able to crack the bluest smile, even if the words sound broken, there is a wisp of hope, a playful musical glint. Take stand-out moment Damned Right, it enters on a gorgeously floating melody of strings and brass that Sufjan Stevens would be proud of, before dropping down to just a guitar, then clambers to an arena-worthy crescendo. It’s a track of beautiful contrasts, it sounds so triumphant, nodding to the celebratory buoyancy of the Polyphonic Spree, yet the words the mass of voices unite on are so down-beat, “I’m not worth employing, and I’m barely enjoying my time spent at home, all along, you were so damned right”. From there the album slides into the title track, Rut…Waking Hour, a classic song of two parts, it enters on a McCartney-like guitar ditty, “here comes the truth darling, I’ll never stop loving you”, before grinding to a halt and returning as a brilliant slice of piano-led pop, complete with possibly the most bizarrely grandiose keyboard-solo you’ll hear this year.
One of the record’s finest qualities is its ability to find humour within the bleaker moments, take the wonderful, C’mon! Haribo? Essentially it’s a song of feeling heartbroken, yet Alex finds room within that to laugh at his own flair for melodrama. To a backing of clattering indie-pop fans of Los Campesinos! will adore, he pleads with himself to, “just get over it”, as he berates himself, “c’mon! Alex get a grip! It’s clear that she’s moved on, and you’re still eating sweets for lunch”.
Ultimately for all the struggles that shape it, Rut is an album that should be celebrated, a band out performing every expectation. The world might not be an easy place to exist, yet despite that Tugboat Captain don’t just survive, they’ve managed to thrive, the rent cheque might not come in, yet Rut will achieve something much more important than that, it’s a record to be truly proud of.
Rut is out October 16th via Double-A Side Records. Click HERE for more information on Tugboat Captain.