Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves’ debut in 2008 was a great collection of rock songs that varied stylistically, but served as a consistent vehicle for the beaten, weary, introspective side of Wollard’s songwriting away from Hot Water Music. It also wasn’t really recorded in the same way most bands record albums—bits and pieces were done here, some session musician friends of Wollard’s were brought in there—Hell, it wasn’t even really supposed to be an album; it just kind of happened that way.
Regardless of its conception, Wollard eventually assembled some players and hit the road for sporadic touring, mostly in the south. Fans at these shows were treated, often frustratingly so, to sets largely comprised of unreleased material. As nice as it would’ve been to hear some more material from LP1 in a live setting, in hindsight it makes a lot of sense; the Ship Thieves are a band now, and it’s only natural that they’d want to showcase material they’d written as a band. It was hard to be too mad about it anyway, because the new songs rocked pretty hard.
Now we have those songs on a record. Canyons unsurprisingly sounds much more like the effort of a full band than of one performer, and that works to its advantage. Even with that said, it’s still pretty varied like its predecessor—just louder. Wollard’s guitar work is entertaining throughout; huge solos abound (“Dream In My Head,” “Heavy Rolling Thunder”) and his weathered drawl fits this southern-adorned punk like a glove.
Some of the better moments on LP1 were the more stark cuts like “All The Same To You” and “Hey B,” and Wollard successfully recreates that vibe on “Lonely Days,” with a busy acoustic guitar complemented by a somber steel guitar. His songwriting translates well in this setting, and it’s weirdly admirable that the whole album isn’t like this, lest he fall down the “acoustic guy” trap.
Canyons keeps up the anthemics with “Crawl,” maybe the album’s best song and also its heaviest. Those who’ve seen the Ship Thieves live in the past few years can attest to the fact that Wollard essentially solos through the band’s entire set (and it rips), and this song is the best example of that aspect of their arsenal. Really, the entire backend of the album does this; “Modern Faith” is a hell of a closing track, building and building through a mid-tempo base to a rollicking finish that—surprise—is anchored by a huge guitar solo from Wollard.
Now that Canyons is out, these songs the Ship Thieves have been crafting for three years have a deeper impact—and some much-needed context—beyond that of a live setting. It’s the sound of a band coming together, playing to each other’s strengths and the songs are better for it. Chris Wollard continues to be one of the best songwriters in our scene, some twenty years after he started.