The August 2009 break-up of Brooklyn’s Pela (QRO spotlight on) came as a punch in the gut to fans, who had seen the band survive singer/guitarist Billy McCarthy’s hand injury while on tour the prior year (QRO live review, right before that), and cut short the hope that had come from hearing live such promising new songs as “Juarez” (QRO video). But it was nothing compared to what was happening inside Pela, as disagreements with their label, management, and amongst themselves saw them scrap the vast majority of what was to be their follow-up to their excellent full-length debut, Anytown Graffiti (QRO review). Then McCarthy’s brother James committed suicide. There was really no choice but to break up.
But thankfully Billy McCarthy, along with Pela-mate Eric Sanderson, persevered as We Are Augustines (named after the birth month of both men, plus James McCarthy, and the dissolution month of Pela). Rise Ye Sunken Ships ups Billy McCarthy’s evocation, even if it isn’t quite the near-magnum opus that was Anytown.
Most of Ships is material from the Pela sessions, and understandably sounds like McCarthy & Sanderson’s old band. However, McCarthy’s evocative vocals and nature are increased, even as the instrumentation is decreased (going from five-piece to three-piece – with new drummer Rob Allen – will do that for you). “Chapel Song”, “Augustine”, and especially “Book of James” (written for Billy’s late brother) see the reduction in instrumentation matched by the raising of evocation. Contrastingly, the more epic “Headlong Into the Abyss”, revived “Juarez”, and rockin’ “Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love)” are bigger pieces more in the prior Pela tradition.
After the excellence of Graffiti, Any follow-up would somewhat shrink in comparison, and Rise Ye Sunken Ships certainly Rises from Sunken moorings. The final third of Ships is forgettable, compared to the rest of the album, and the songs do miss the guitar of Pela’s Nate Martinez (QRO interview – now of his own band, Thieving Irons – QRO album review). But it’s still a strong achievement (and hopeful portent for much more).
MP3 Stream: “Headlong Into the Abyss“