Unwed Sailor Little Wars

[Burnt Toast Vinyl; 2008]

Styles: post-rock, instrumental rock
Others: Early Day Miners, Explosions in The Sky

Ex-Pedro the Lion bassist Johnathan Ford conceived Unwed Sailor back in 1998 with the best of intentions. Traveling from state to state and constantly revolving his contributors, Ford’s (don't-call-it-a-sideproject!) outfit has released some of the more versatile and welcomely varied instrumental rock of the past decade or so, and defiantly so, following the post-rock crash of 2003. So what’s next for Unwed Sailor? Following conceptual records, film scores, and muscular tour-de-forces, we are now graced with Little Wars, Unwed Sailor's idea of an instrumental pop record. Neither portentous nor cinematic, Little Wars is melodic and at times downright playful. Tellingly, it’s a puzzling listen.

“The Garden” and the jangly “Echo Roads” are the most obvious attempts at conventionally structured pop, the former a mild success and the latter... a possible backing to a Citizens Bank commercial. And that's the main problem with Little Wars: without vocals or lyrics, most of the material here could pass for the worst fate of incidental music possible -- TV Commercial Theme Fare. It might not end up in the Starbucks CD rack, but it could sure as hell be piped through their speakers as you await your caffeinated froth. Thankfully for anyone feeling nostalgic, the surging “Aurora” boils Unwed Sailor's strengths down to just under minutes, anchored by the familiar rumbling bass of Ford. On another note, the thin synthesizers of "Campanile" provide a sour tacked-on quality to one of the more inspired and rhythmically flexible tracks here.

At the end of the day, can we blame Unwed Sailor for trying to dodge expectations and deliver something fresh in a genre that has grown stale? Instrumental rock and post-rock peers Do Make Say Think, Tortoise, and The Dirty Three have all come around to flirting with vocal and lyrical medium at this point, while outfits like Band of Horses have pillaged the sonic touchstones of these bands and draped them around pop songs to widespread appeal. I for one would like to chalk this up as a failed experiment by an artist with a streak of successful ones.

Most Read