In 2005, Glenn D’Cruze stepped out from behind the drum kit where he supported of a variety of Vancouver based bands and launched his own called North Atlantic Explorers along with Jonathan Anderson. After the debut record (Skylines), the project remained quiet until 2014 when they returned with the first of an ambitious brace of conceptually related albums called My Father Was a Sailor.. Now, with release of the purely instrumental All the Ships At Sea, the musical diptych is complete. The albums are bound by their source of inspiration – D’Cruze’s late father’s life at sea with the British Merchant Navy:
As a young man, my father left his parents and eight siblings in a faraway country and set out to see the world. He arrived in Glasgow, Scotland circa 1952 to begin a life as an engineer with the British Merchant Navy and he spent the better part of a decade on the steamer ships. Upon returning from the sea, he fell in love with and married a stenographer and began a new life in Canada. But that was a lifetime ago…I can only wonder, and I often do, what life was like for him as a young man sailing out to distant seas and being out at sea for endless days” – Glenn D’Cruze
My Father Was a Sailor features fully realized songs that provide narrative or muse on broader themes while cinematic vignettes like ‘Glasgow Circa 1952’, ‘Subtropics’, and ‘Hebrides, Bailey, fair Isle’ provide the backdrop. ‘The Sailor and the Stenographer’ is a tender ode to D’Cruze’s parents that sets the tone while a fourteen person choir adds beautiful expansiveness to the trilogy of songs that serve as the dramatic center section of the record (‘Lost at Sea’, ‘Into the Blue Sea’, ‘Spiral Into the Sea’). The album also includes a cover of ‘South’ (originally by pop duo Pipas) and a particularly tender conclusion via the lovely ‘White Moon Bay’.
All the Ships At Sea, on the other hand, is a companion collection of instrumentals and sonic sketches each bearing the name of a ship on which D’Cruze’s father sailed during his career. They paint a diverse picture of both peaceful journeys (‘Martaban’, ‘Sapphire’, ‘Ptarmigan’) and a spirit of adventure (‘Renfrew’, ‘Lapwing’). As a nice touch, the album ends with a rendition of “Sailing By”, a tune that served as the musical accompaniment to BBC Radio’s late night shipping forecast.
The style that permeates both albums is deceptively sophisticated, fusing pop, rock, jazz, ambient, and compositional elements into an amalgam so smooth flowing and mellifluous it would be easy to overlook the nuances that make it up. It all ensconced in a retro vibe that references sounds of the 70s and 80s (Wurlitzer & Rhodes pianos, Casio keyboards, mellotron) rather than the music of the era it is depicting. This has the clever effect of creating a warmly nostalgic mood that still feels bright and adventurous. And not to be overlooked are the invaluable contributions made by guest musicians like JP Carter (Destroyer) and Sam Davidson (Brasstronaut) as well as the voice of Stuart David (Belle and Sebastian).
Through these two records we don’t so much relive a story as look back lovingly on it through D’Cruze’s eyes & ears. So pull up a chair by the digital firelight and let North Atlantic Explorers spin you a tale of the sea. My Father Was a Sailor and All the Ships at Sea are both available on CD and as digital downloads on the North Atlantic Explorers Bandcamp site.
‘The Sailor and the Stenographer’ from My Father Was a Sailor
‘Glasgow Circa 1952’ from My Father Was a Sailor
‘Martaban’ from All the Ships at Sea
‘Renfrew’ from All the Ships at Sea