Last week, we chose Emitter as our pick of the season in post-rock. It’s been a long journey for the Bristol band, a dozen years spent at sea. The course of The Pirate Ship Quintet led through troubled waters, but now the ship is back on course, with smooth sailing ahead.
Back in 2007, the band’s debut album made a huge splash with our staff, half of whom were writing for another site at the time. We saw great things ahead for the quintet, but had to wait five years for a follow-up. Yndi Halda’s debut also appeared that year, but their follow-up took nine years. Each band decided to add vocals. The Pirate Ship Quartet experimented with screamo on Rope for No Hopers, while Yndi Halda chose to become more accessible. But while Yndi Halda has continued to morph into an alternative band, The Pirate Ship Quintet has done something extraordinary. No one screams on Emitter. In its place is soft, lovely, wordless song, shared so sparingly that one would actually be happy with more. Two female soloists and a curated choir remind us of why we liked Clare Torry’s vocals on Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” all those years ago. In a word: drama. The 17-minute “Companion” is as good as it gets.
Sandy Bartai’s cello is the band’s not-so-secret weapon. The cello is a transformative instrument, partially responsible for the success of many independent bands, Murder By Death only one prime example. And there is a lot of cello here. As one might expect in post-rock, The Pirate Ship Quintet includes two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer, but while other post-rock bands include stringed performers as guests, Bartai plays an equal and integral role. The length of some of these songs (the title track twelve minutes even), combined with the strings and operatic vocals, aligns the set with modern composition. This being said, the peaks and valleys are plentiful. “Companion” concludes with crescendo, heavy drums joined by cello in the closing segment, a perfect combination. Holy “ahhhs” transform “Wreath” into a candle-lined cathedral.
While four tracks are short enough to fit on 45s, the listener doesn’t notice. The reason: Emitter has perfect flow. Nearly 70 minutes long, it’s easily the band’s magnum opus. By the time saxophonist Andrew Hayes plays on the title track, one realizes that the band has pulled out all the stops. There’s just no way this album was going to fail. The seven-year wait is reminiscent of that of Jacob, who had to work an extra seven years to marry the woman he first fell in love with. The Pirate Ship Quintet has worked hard for seven years, and now everything’s perfect. In 2007, we had high hopes for the band. In 2019, the band has surpassed even our initial expectations. Thousands of other ships have sunk during the last twelve years; this one has fixed its planks, added crew members and raised its sail. (Richard Allen)