Ship Thieves - No Anchor (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Ship Thieves

No Anchor (2016)

No Idea Records

It’s damn near impossible to write a standalone review of a Chris Wollard project without immediately stacking it up against his past work. Whether you favor Caution, In A Million Pieces, No Division, etc.... every fan has got a different standard a new release must measure up to. Having a hand in inspiring an entire generation of bearded punkers with Hot Water Music, Wollard’s got an awful big reputation to uphold. On top of that, his solo(-ish) work outside the seminal Gainesville act has varied greatly in both style and audience reaction. Would the cemented band lineup return to the folksy rambling of 2009’s Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves? Would they stay the route of 2012’s decidedly more Americana full-band sound of Canyons? As it turns out, they did neither. No Anchor is a triumphant return to his roots: it’s heavy, rocking and cohesive, with all the traits of what made Hot Water Music a modern punk touchstone.

Like The Draft’s In A Million Pieces before it, it’s hard not to listen to this as a Chuck Ragan-free Hot Water Music record. But the absence of Jason Black and George Rebelo gives No Anchor a unique rhythm. With a few listens, it becomes clear that the Ship Thieves are their own musical entity. Unlike earlier HWM, where Rebelo and Black’s tightened pulse would occasionally take over steering the ship, these No Anchor tracks tend to feel unified behind Wollard’s trademark guitar work. Simple, but effective lead lines laced over primarily minor key distorted progressions make up the bulk of the album. It’s in line with everything he’s done before, but with relatively new bandmates (at least to this style), it feels fresh.

Wollard continues to pay homage to punk-friendly writers in his lyrics, tipping his cap to both Vonnegut and Bukowski in two of the album’s biggest hooks. “Middle Man” builds off the rousing “So it goes” of its chorus, and “Born to This” draws a straight line back to the namesake of the Bukowski documentary. His words have always toed the line of generic clichés, but his growling voice continues to give weight and meaning to simplistic lines. That holler hasn’t lost a step, either. On “Something Is Missing,” he howls with a vengeance like we’ve never heard from him before. “Ruts” is a showcase of his spiteful bite and an absolute reminder of why he remains one of punk’s most appropriated voices.

With Hot Water Music remaining awfully quiet since 2012’s Exister and the Draft (despite the occasional tour) doing the same, this record feels a little more important than it might actually be. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s an impressive take on a sound that many have been desperately seeking. There’s a reason Wollard and company are still heralded as the “orgcore” standard. No one can replicate that sound quite like they can, and No Anchor is a seamless new take.