Album Review: Death Ships – Circumstantial Chemistry

Death Ships
Circumstantial Chemistry

Death Ships w/ Mike Doughty, Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps // The Mill // Thurs, Mar. 29

Back in 2006 Dan Maloney and his band Death Ships were gigging regularly from his Iowa City home-base and gaining some notoriety. Life changes forced a do-over in Chicago which resulted in derailing the band. When Maloney released the collection of four songs titled Maybe Arkansas he had recorded since the debut Death Ships album in 2010, he was already working on his new album, Circumstantial Chemistry.

That 4-track EP, was a brilliant slice of power pop and I picked it to be one of my favorite releases of 2010. The bar was set high, but Circumstantial Chemistry easily clears it.

The energy of the album keeps me quickly moving through the songs and the production provides interest when I listen close. In headphones the texture and complexity of the songs reveal themselves—a guitar subtly moves around left and right in one song, a bit of clave punctuates a beat low in the mix in another.

“Overpaid (Is It Just Me)” opens with fairly straight drumming and simple guitar rhythm to draw the focus to Maloney’s polished vocals which recall Michael Hutchence-fronted INXS. But it’s the song’s brassy crescendo late in the song that really pays dividends.

For me, the title of Circumstantial Chemistry speaks to the compound of rock and pop influences Maloney mixes carefully in his laboratory—equal parts Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, Badfinger and Big Star yield a new amalgam of classic melodies and hooks wrapped neatly in muscular guitars and reaching, emotive vocals.

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