Every so often (as often as possible) I take a record from my vinyl collection, make a cup of coffee, and just sit and listen without distractions. No laptop, no phone, no newspaper. Just coffee and a record.
For my second Coffee and a Record I grabbed something from the shelf that I thought would fit the bill quite nicely. A mellow, droning (not in a bad way), soothingly melodic 36 minutes with a tempo just upbeat enough to slowly bring me out of my morning haze: Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves, on clear 180-gram vinyl.
For coffee I chose to brew with a shiny little fairweather acquaintance: The moka pot. We’re not close, the moka pot and I. It often sits neglected, but on display, on the counter. I acknowledge its presence most mornings, but reach past it in favor of a more trustworthy friend, the Clever.
I’ll be the first to admit that my friction with the moka pot could be a symptom of ignorance, or incompetence. Regardless, I just don’t have confidence in the little guy. This morning proved why.
The first cup I made, using my currently featured coffee Guatemala Atitlán, was near perfect. It yielded everything I would hope to get from this coffee: It was sweet and citrusy, ideally balanced with, and not-at-all overpowered by, chocolate, and the body … It was so good I had to make a second cup between sides A and B of the record. I replicated my steps from the first cup, theoretically replicating my love for the first cup. But the results were noticeably under-extracted (sour-tasting). And thus my chilled relationship with the moka pot.
Onto the music.
Released in 2009 on No Idea Records, the self-titled Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves LP was initially considered the solo full-length debut from Wollard, most notably of Hot Water Music. However, now that “Chris Wollard” has been dropped from their upcoming 2016 release, billing them as simply Ship Thieves, it confuses the issue a bit. But at a time when every punk rock veteran songwriter was shedding bandmates and getting in front of a mic with an acoustic guitar — most relevantly Wollard’s Hot Water Music co-pilot Chuck Ragan — it made sense that this record would emerge branded as a solo effort.
Although Wollard gets sole songwriting credit and his voice is front and center on all songs, this record feels a bit more like a cohesive full-band effort than does the initial solo releases from Chuck Ragan, Tim Barry and others.
Hot Water Music fans have come to appreciate Wollard’s consistent tendency to barely let a clean syllable escape his mouth before accelerating into a gravelly, angsty melodic wail. Although his neuroses remain lyrically, his voice on this record, miraculously, never reaches that point. The vocal range isn’t exactly far-reaching (or anywhere close), but the implementation of strong melodies with lack of vocal flare make for a tight collection of solid, approachable, moody songs. The tempo hovers around a calm, head-bobbing 100-plus beats per minute — with rhythms on some songs that would feel at home in a country-western dance hall — making it a nice morning soundtrack.
Just as the power of the caffeine begins syncing with the pulse of the music, the final track, the stripped and solemn “Hey B”, soothes and sinks me further into the couch. With my hands clasped around the still-warm cup of coffee resting on my stomach, I close my eyes and drift into state of calm. I’m not quite satisfied as I listen to the needle navigate around the center of the record. I lift the tone arm and place it back at the beginning of “Hey B” for just a few more minutes of vinyl meditation.