My Father Was a Sailor represents Glenn D'Cruze's therapy and reconciliation with mortality. The musical memorial of his late father occupies that middle ground between sadness and beauty, and will be touchingly familiar to everyone who has lost someone. If only we could all honour the lost this well.
Cinematic is perhaps the most constant style in this album. From the opening track The Sailor & The Stenographer, we hear a forecast of the sea, immediately setting the scene for the adventure ahead. From there, we get a summary of the love story that will occur between the father and mother as they meet, fall in love, and share a life together. The vocals on the track echo and spread, as if it’s being told from someone in the past, and the beautiful horn playing by JP Carter adds a sense of triumph to the song and to the story.
This sense of triumph is carried over in other songs, such as Don’t Want No One Else. A song about what happens once you know you’ve found your soul mate, the use of the choir in this song adds a nice heavenly sound that touches upon those feelings of flying one gets when they are in love.
In contrast, songs like Lost at Sea and Into the Blue Sea create hypnotic atmospheres of fear and anticipation. The latter, arguably one of the best tracks on the album, takes you through every emotion that comes with facing a monstrous sea: terror, wonderment, and the recognition that anything could happen are all captured magnificently. You can almost see the huge waves rising overhead on a stormy night and feel the fear of the sailors as they partake in venturing through them.
Tracks like No More Stormy Seas and White Moon Bay close out the album. Continuing to experiment with different sonic expressions, auto-tune, electronic beats, and soulful vocals, they tell what happens once the waves have passed.
Once the album is over, you get a sense of how remarkable this story is. It’s not just about being on a boat. It’s about love, adventure, exploration, change, bravery, family, life, death, and everything else over and under the sea.
Starting with the voice of Stuart David and the sounds of the sea, the biographical “The Sailor & The Stenographer” is a quiet opening chapter to this adventure. With a minimalistic arrangement, the backing water noise as well as other stray sound effects are the base of the track. In the forefront lies the simple and soft croon of D’Cruze (initially reminding me of the Evening Hymns’ Jonas Bonnetta) and eventually a, what will be a very familiar, horn section and finally a choir is added.
It is not until the third song, “Don’t Want No One Else (If I Can’t Have You),” when the album picks up. Borrowing a line and melody from Belle & Sebastian’s “The Boy With The Arab Strap,” this song will be appealing to Sufjan Stevens fans (particularly his pre-The Age of Adz time) as it is a very melodious and collaborative folk song. Likewise, “Lost At Sea,” though more downtempo, is another strong tune that combines the voices and instruments of many with great success.
Slightly expanding from the more generic folk sounds, songs like “Into The Blue Sea” and “White Moon Bay” utilize electronic elements for a change that works well with the overall soundscape of the record.
Nestled throughout My Father Was A Sailor are three all instrumental tracks that are treasures not to be overlooked. Highlighted by gentle sounds of a glockenspiel, “Glasgow Circa 1952” carries a lightness that is a great relief following the darker “The Sailor & The Stenographer.” Similarly, “Subtropics” is clear which, again, feels reassuring when wading through the darker parts of the album. Last, “Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle” is where North Atlantic Explorers gets the most adventurous. Fully narrated by David, who is telling a weather report, the backing instrumentals sound like a free jam. Everything is looser, less ominous, more upbeat, and well, fun. There must be something joyful in the coming wind.