Words by Robin Mumford of The Indie Plug
Tugboat Captain brilliantly blends together a concoction of meaningful lyrics and joyous orchestral layers to craft an uplifting and fresh first album.
As album reviewers, we often forget to listen to music for what it really is. We often look too in-depth at the intricate details of songs, maybe something that we’ve been accustomed to look out for due to our analytical nature, even though the everyday person isn’t listening to the album for these reasons. When I stuck this album on, I listened without too much thought and I decided to let whatever thoughts I had on it thrive. As a result of this, ‘Rut’ was a really enjoyable listen and it’s different to anything I’ve reviewed before.
‘Rut’ is the debut studio album from indie-pop 4-piece Tugboat Captain. They’re often cited as one of the hardest working groups in the London DIY scene, the band emerge from the sonic limitations of their previous homespun bedroom-pop efforts into higher fidelity, accompanied by their ramshackle orchestra of friends to present their most ambitious work to date. Tugboat secretly used their free studio hours at the infinitely famous Abbey Road in 2019 to bring their first album to surface in 2020, inviting a wide variety of friends and collaborators to feature along their journey.
On the surface, an album named ‘Rut’ may sound quite disenchanting, especially when you look at the titles of songs that range from ‘Check Ur Health’ to ‘Downward Slope.’ However, Tugboat have in fact released a piece of artwork that is both uplifting and high spirited. I was pleasantly surprised by the positive nature of every song, despite the recurring motif of stasis and frustration. After becoming so used to emotionally strung and heart-rending releases throughout the year, Tugboat’s refreshingly symphonic baroque-pop record will be welcomed open armed by many music listeners. “One of the UK-scene’s best kept secrets” is the remark that ‘For the Rabbits’ made, and I would have to agree.
A Sgt Pepper’s approach diversified with a pantomime-like opener through ‘Check Ur Health’ sets the ball rolling for the rest of the album. This song has a rich profusion of layers from an abundance of different instruments; I could see this song being rung around the London Palladium due to its high energy and mellifluous fervency. This is very clearly an album that was built upon foundations of a group of friends with unfathomable passion.
Despite being written well over a year ago, ‘Rut’ draws upon current circumstances with its influences and this is most present on ‘No Plans (For This Year)’. Perhaps it can be said that Tugboat are creating music way ahead of its time. The idea of stasis and a sense of nothingness trickles through this song and serves as a statement of the album’s qualities of spawning from a wide compass of influences past, present, and future. This song impressively captures the mood of a generation of young adults whose lives have been halted by extraordinary circumstances.
Another song off the album that needs to be mentioned is that of ‘Rut… Waking Hour’. If I had to pick a song to compare this to, I would have to pick ‘A Day In The Life’ by The Beatles purely down to its outro that I have learnt to fall in love with. What starts out as normal song, ends with a synth combustion of sorts that almost zaps you into the future a million years.
Whilst its orchestral layers and contemporary lyrics play a big role in the success of this debut album, at the core of it is the palpable friendship that is intertwined throughout this highly bubbly and zestful concoction. Like I said, it’s extremely unique in its style and it’s easy to forget that this was recorded on a zero-budget scheme. A beautifully balanced piece of artwork worthy of its plaudits. **** 1/2