Diverse elements collide peacefully and quite pleasantly on Soft Enterprise, the latest effort from San Antonio songwriter Mike Chapa's Whiskey Ships project.
As on his first album (2010's Love Aqueduct), we get power chords, meandering keys, surf vibes, hand claps, and a deadpan delivery reminiscent (but not wholly indebted to) Ben Gibbard's early Death Cab for Cutie work or some of Stephen Malkmus' better stuff. Unlike Love Aqueduct, in which he went at it alone, Soft Enterprise finds Chapa working with a full band and the product is deeper, more complex in musical movement, and boasts more of a full-band feel. The strong improvements in polish and textural poignancy can also be attributed, in part, to engineer and longtime Buttercup collaborator Salim Nourallah. Of course, recruiting John Dufilho (Apples in Stereo, Deathray Davies), a veteran of the indie fringes, as producer certainly didn't hurt. Chapa refers to the difference between the two albums as a maturation process.
"Most of the songs [in Love Aqueduct] I had saved up for years, and I had demos recorded of all of them, so it was really about trying to get it done in the most affordable and fastest way possible," Chapa said. "We literally recorded and released it within two months."
On the other hand — and this will be obvious to almost any listener — Soft Enterprise, rather than a repository for musical odds and ends, has a definite center and is "based more around simple pop grooves and hooks."
"I also put more thought into the lyrics this time around, and I made sure that every song had a story to tell," Chapa said. "Most of the songs are about the end of a marriage and trying to get across the bridge to something better."
These are sweet and patient songs with dull teeth, perfect for your living room, endearing for their candor and for the apparent disregard for current musical trends that they exude. Chapa is a veritable master at creating songs that exist somewhere between catchy and melancholy, without being conspicuously labored over or dramatic. There is a bygone earnestness in craftsmanship and (almost) garage pop quality in the songs on Soft Enterprise, which carry it through multiple spins far better than I would have expected after my initial listen.
Through all the ponderous guitar movement and percussive swirls and bounds, there's a lingering honky-tonk aftertaste to the songs on Soft Enterprise that — for my money — is nothing but a strong argument to catch the group's album release show on September 8 at the "new and improved" Boneshakers. This will be the band's first show since April. "Our bass player James Land [River City Playboys] stepped aside in early May to fight leukemia," Chapa said. "He's on his last round of chemo, and hopes to make a return to teaching and the band in the fall." Brant Sankey from Suzy Bravo and The Soul Revue will fill in on bass for the CD release.
Whiskey Ships CD Release Party feat. Dark Planes and Yes, Inferno
10pm Sat, Sept 8
Boneshakers Bicycle Pub
306 Austin Street