Time has a habit of sanding the rough edges off heavy bands, of whittling away some of their eccentricities. Artists that earned their stripes mining the wily outskirts of accessibility often find themselves wanting to embrace more straightforward songcraft. Manned by brothers Eric and Andrew Jernigan and whatever drummer they call on to flesh out the sound, City of Ships made a big splash last year with Look What God Did to Us, which was a volatile mixture of molasses-thick sludge and roomy post metal, all of it anchored by singer Eric’s half-screamed, half-sung musings on life, religion and more. When it came time to record the follow-up, the band decided that a change of direction was in order and focused on producing a set that peeled away some of the crunchy histrionics to showcase their melodic underpinnings.
Minor World is leaner and consciously hookier than its predecessor, but it’s no less impactful. Eric’s voice has been brought out from behind the wall of guitars that used to obscure it, and he takes the opportunity to sing his ass off. The new penchant for clean singing and the enticingly melodic riffage packed into each song allow the band to pursue a number of new avenues, from the punchy, almost punky “Chainman” and “Low Countries” to the spacious quietude of “Darkness at Noon” and “Sweet Delirium.” The band reveals a knack for balladry here that is a surprisingly natural fit on a group of players so gleefully dedicated to shredding eardrums mere months ago. For all the new tricks, the noisy, exploratory City of Ships of old isn’t dead yet. Numbers like slow-burning opener “Clotilde” and the appropriately titled “Celestial Navigation” recall the musical flights of fancy that characterized the last album even as lighter ones like “Subrosa” gun for a more direct verse-chorus-verse methodology.
One of Minor World’s major triumphs is the band’s relative ease in attacking such a range of material. It’s a record that’s pulling in a few different directions at once, but no one weighs so heavily that the others seem out of place. Chalk the success of the record up to the Jernigans’ dogged quest to pack this thing with wall-to-wall catchy melodies as well as their merciful sense of brevity. Where many of their peers would be perfectly comfortable letting similar grooves ride out for seven, eight, or even ten minutes, City of Ships gets down to business in half the time and moves on. Minor World is a fearless step forward for a band that had great things going for it already. Their refusal to rest on their laurels and make the same record twice is the mark of restlessly creative thinkers. Wonder what else these guys are capable of.