Tugboat Captain – ‘Rut’ album review

Tugboat Captain spent the past year secretly using free studio hours at Abbey Road to record their debut album, ‘Rut’. The four-piece have long been acclaimed for their work ethic and gorgeous pop hooks but now they’re ready to take their sound to new – often orchestral – height’.

The cabaret-style announcement of ‘Please excuse me while I demonstrate my feelings to the room’ before then referring to the never-ending gloom of today’s society on opener ‘Check Ur Health’ perfectly captures the way the band uses self-depreciation as a huge part of their baroque sound: ‘Is it only up from here?’ The piano-driven ‘If Tomorrow’s Like Today’ hits that sweet spot between ‘Penny Lane’ and Flight of the Conchords as Alexander Sokolow ponders if writing a song is the answer to his personal troubles: ‘What happens if tomorrow’s like today? Oh, I just need a change’.

‘Figure It Out’ is a piece of orchestral chamber pop – complete with harmonious group vocals – that Neil Hannon would be proud of while ‘C’mon! Haribo?’ reminded us of early Los Camp as Alex both celebrates and commiserates the reality of modern life (‘spending the day in bed’ is delivered with unbridled enthusiasm) and dealing with a painful break-up: ‘Go to the corner shop, I should really cook some food but I’m just not in mood. Alex, get a grip. It’s clear that she’s moved on and you’re still eating sweets for lunch’. ‘Downward Slope’ is a recreation of a journey that also finds the end of a relationship playing on Alex (‘My mind circles back to you’) before ‘Come Dig Me Out’ looks at how paying for rent and food can lead to money worries – especially when you compare your position to others in seemingly more fulfilling lives: ‘I don’t know what to say, all my friends seem OK. I want to figure out what it is they’ve done’. This song also features a samba-style beat for good measure.

The title track opens in sparser fashion as Alex talks about being stuck in the rain with a love song stuck in his head before a brass-led change of direction takes it into a multi-coloured and spectral sound reminiscent of Patrick Wolf’s ‘The Magic Position – albeit with some darkness in the lyrics: ‘Here in the waking hour, I can’t seem to screw my head on straight’. We’d describe the art rock of ‘Everything About You’ as sounding somewhat similar to David Byrne leading Supergrass through the score of an Off-Broadway musical. It’s ramshackle and rambling but brilliant, with a dose of lustful nostalgia thrown in for good measure: ‘I just want to hear everything about you. Tell me what was the first record you owned? Where was the first place you got stoned?’

The recent single ‘Day to Day’ finishes the record in style as the band rally against living under this Tory government and how burnt-out Gen Xrs and Millenials now deem simply surviving – eating out-of-date food and all – on a day-to-day basis as a huge achievement. They talk about how if you set the bar below, things can’t possibly get worse. Is this really how we want to live? As the band sing in unison, ‘I’m not designed for hope’.

Capturing the thoughts of a generation within brilliantly pitched pop hooks, you’ll want to jump aboard with Tugboat Captain. The world might be in a rut right now, but you couldn’t ask for better crewmates.

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