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Death Ships Set Sail for Sunnier Seas: Friday, September 22, at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 19 September 2006 22:49

Death Ships On the cover of the Death Ships' Seeds of Devastation, a resplendent Midwestern farm scene - complete with stalks of wheat, a dragonfly, and a red barn - sets the tone. But on the inside panel, as the barn burns down behind him, a boy in a blue winter coat pokes a white paper boat with a stick.

The band's name and multiple visual and verbal contradictions create an eerie haze around Death Ships' debut CD, but the songs are anything but dark. With its roller-rink keyboard, start-stop beat, tambourine, and hand-claps, "Symmetrical Smiles" is a hip-swiveling rocker. The song is fleshed out by a twangy guitar and Death Ships singer Dan Maloney's clear, bright voice. Similar to bands such as Essex Green, Ladybug Transistor, and Beulah, Iowa City's Death Ships honor the tradition of '60s icons the Kinks and the Zombies.

But more in-step with their contemporaries, Death Ships incorporate instruments such as the trumpet and lap steel to liven things up. On "Sarah," a muted trumpet played by Kathryn Musilek gives this jazzy little road song a burst of speed to keep it driving along.

A fluttering drumbeat, a deftly strummed acoustic guitar, and Maloney's crisp vocals fill things out. "Run, run, Sarah, run / Run to Chicago / You'll be the one." On a journey of self-discovery, Sarah is the "talk of the town" but wants something more, wants to leave her familiar and safe surroundings behind. And at just over two minutes, the listener can't help but want to hear more of Sarah's story.

As with the album's artwork, Maloney thought it'd be fun to give the band a dark and heavy name that contradicted its pop sound. Furthermore, from being signed to Undertow Management to Maloney's publishing company being called Faithful Anchor and obviously the band's name, Maloney is a self-professed nautical fanatic. "[I] love the lore of the sea, pirates, freedom of being on the high seas, the history of early sea exploration," he said.

While the songs on Seeds of Devastation may not be nautical tales per se, they are tales nonetheless. "Won't you come and sit with me a while / The wine's got me talking / And I can't think of anywhere, I'd rather be." Simple and direct, Maloney's lyrics are a welcoming invitation into this epic tale. As a tambourine rings out like sleigh bells, "Great American" is one of the few songs that prominently feature Musilek on vocals.

Her voice becomes intertwined with Maloney's as the song crescendos from its patient and gentle start into an indie-rock anthem that would make Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollard proud.

It's on two of the album's slower numbers that the range of Maloney's voice can be heard. On "Little Mystery," Maloney's vocal stylizations are reminiscent of Afghan Whigs/Twilight Singers frontman Greg Dulli. Hints of Red House Painters singer Mark Kozelek are apparent on the sadcore wistfulness of "Echo Children." Still, both tracks resist the moodiness of either Dulli's or Kozelek's songs and can't be considered simple mimicry.

Maloney is ultimately a pop singer, as can be heard on the album's centerpiece, "Story Never Gets Old." One of the best songs yet this year, "Story" bops along with syrupy goodness. Everything about it fits perfectly together - a simple infectious melody, a beat like skipping rope, and a familiar story of boy meets girl.

"He was a poet with a knack for prose / She was a thief with a taste for clothes / They worked it out." Maloney's crisp, catchy lyrics are buoyed along by a choppy piano melody. With walking bass lines and the bright twinkle of a triangle, "Story Never Gets Old" is like an old-time radio jingle and is endlessly listenable. "Just as the story begins to get old / Life begins to pick it up" - a simple mantra that should have everyone singing along.

Death Ships have undergone a number of changes over its short life. Beginning in 2001 as a solo project for Dan Maloney, it soon developed into something that needed a full band to fulfill its potential. Seeds of Devastation is a document of how the band was exactly one year ago. Ofer Sivan replaced Musilek on keyboards and Randall Davis moved from bass to lead guitar/lap steel. The shifts in the band's lineup have allowed for new arrangements of the songs.

The band is currently touring with Jay Bennett (also managed by Undertow) of Wilco. Bennett also asked the band to back him up on stage. Maloney expressed his excitement about the opportunity: "We are super-stoked and hope some potential doors will open from that. Needless to say his work with Wilco is [a] fairly obvious influence for us."

Seeds of Devastation will be a hard album to follow, but Maloney said he is up to the task: "As for the next record, we have enough songs written, but obviously we have to tour in support of [this album] first before we can think about recording it."


Death Ships - along with Hockey Night and Driver of the Year - will perform on Friday, September 22, at RIBCO in Rock Island. The show starts at 10 p.m.


For more information on Death Ships, visit (

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