Two and a half years have passed since our review of A Circle Is Forever, and Chicago / Philadelphia duo The Big Ship have taken the ensuing time to hone their craft ~ whenever they’re home from school, they get together and jam, and other friends often join them as well. This kind feeling translates to the warm sound of Searchlight Casting, which begins in comfort and cruises to a calm port.
Lead single “The Boathouse Story” is also the album’s strongest track; as the label writes, the music is “perfect for those winter chills.” While listening, one can easily imagine a pair of comfortably worn chairs, a fire in the hearth, a bearskin rug, a few friends and some hastily procured mugs. A tiny hint of electronics graces the final two minutes, keeping the guitars company long into the frigid night. It’s amazing how much this song sounds like friendship, as nothing is forced or rushed; the melodies unfold at their own pace, until they wind down like a completed conversation.
The pace picks up a bit for “Ten Year Ceremony,” which introduces the fuller band and offers timbres similar to those of Do Make Say Think in their Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn days ~ which is no surprise, given the time of year. All of the players seem comfortable, at ease with each other and their environment. When the breakdowns arrive, the shifts remain as light as the refilling of drinks between courses. Everyone gets a turn, and makes the most of their moment.
Last time out, the duo placed their (light) vocals upfront, while this time they save them for the end, a wise decision as it allows time for the tone to be set. When those few words arrive on “The Dark Rider,” they seem instinctive. Which of all the worlds would you choose? We’d choose this one, a world devoid of sharp edges, in which even the frayed edge of a distorted drone feels like a familiar, fuzzy blanket. (Richard Allen)