Spy Island – Famous Shipwrecks EP

Spy Island
Famous Shipwrecks EP

The Famous Shipwrecks EP is prime indie rock. On itsr third release, Spy Island seize inspiration from the finely aged sounds of Mercury Rev and Pavement and capture those rare aesthetics that, for many, define indie rock. The sound screams DIY, where fabricated flaws and seemingly carefree musicianship are just part of the plan. The scruffy but charming end result doesn’t happen by chance. The band, led here by songwriter Dale Nicholls, follows inspiration all the way through.

Spy Island is Nicholls and a loose collective playing various instruments. The 5 tracks on the Famous Shipwrecks EP were recorded and mixed in various Seattle cubbyholes. Alternately stripped down or layered, these mussy pop songs bleed a quickly fading innocence. Simple chord progressions come to life and choruses bring hooks and occasional harmonies.

Tracks 1 and 3 best show the traditionalists’ concept of indie rock. First, “Pink Like Smog” takes off from a simple pop chord progression, using understated vocals at the verse before releasing a bustling energetic chorus, singing, “Yeah, but they’re catching on! I can see the shadows across the lawn. / Yeah, but they’re catching on! What we gonna do now that summer’s gone?” A sax enters at 3:15 to ease through an interlude before the lovely fade out.

In track 3, “Ecorse Fireworks”, the bare acoustic guitar invites embellishment. Here, again, the peak is the chorus, featuring the lyric, “Ecorse fireworks are bleeding red and yellow on the floor / Ancient yards, drinking mates burning swing sets in their wake / We shout out from the deep while she drinks and dreams of sleep / Hand on cheek, skin and bones / Ecorse fireworks are bleeding red and yellow on the floor”.

The remaining songs are more temperamental, two of them cacophonic and the other somber. Fifth track, “Small Storm”, layers instruments and tension, moving from mild aggression to release which builds a strong arc through the song. “Lovely Phonecalls”, starring organ keys, is maybe the crudest track of the bunch. It works in a rush. Exaggerated vocals, voluminous keyboard work, and haphazard drumming stir up an electric whir. In contrast, “Avery” enters on a minor key, as male and female vocals mix and instruments fade in and back out to ease or maybe facilitate gloom. The lyrics close with, “Avery, why are you crying? / I promise I’ll stop lying / You are my medication, my one-time education / You are my medication, my dying inspiration”.

On Famous Shipwrecks, Spy Island’s Dale Nicholl’s makes a convincing show of his musical prowess beneath a crude exterior. Hodgepodge sonics yield catchy results. Shame it all has to end so soon.