SAIL – Emotional Motion Ocean EP

British sludge/doom/alternative outfit Sail aren’t the most prolific band, but they’re one of those acts that seem to offer something of genuine interest whenever new music arrives. In August 2021, their two track single ‘Flood’ showcased their knack for massive riffs, but also showed how they could make an almost unmovable sound seem more atmospheric than some of their peers. An accompanying remix actually gave the material a further lift when demonstrating how the original recording had an almost mechanical, semi-industrial feel beneath the riff, and further suggested that Sail’s best material presented far more than a heavy vibe.

Nine months on, and their eagerly awaited return with ‘Emotion Motional Ocean’ offers a variation on a theme once more. Yes, the riffs retain a stoner-ish crunch at times, but there’s also plenty within their overdriven and repetitive approach that draws as much from the alternative sounds of the 90s. The opening salvo of noise falls somewhere between the hard edged emo of Bivouac and the feedback drenched noise of early Dinosaur Jr, and as the verse gains traction with a hugely emotional vocal, it’s even possible to hear traces of Muse creeping in with an overwrought and bombastic heart. The collision of the styles suggests that Sail are aiming to branch out and connect with a different audience, but eventually they revert to type by bringing in a heavier, very stoner derived groove to fill and instrumental bridge. In the hands of lesser talents, this could feel shoehorned in – an obvious device to remind everyone that the “older” Sail aren’t so far away – but as it is, it really works. The transition between the “alternative retro” and “Sabbath-esque retro” shows a mastery of a riff from both Charlie and Tim, while the soaring chorus melodies are strong enough to dominate.

As before, the track is bolstered by a couple of excellent remixes. However, with the earlier remix of ‘Flood’, Sail seemed to be playing things rather cautiously – merely using their chosen remixer to lift the material. The remixes of ‘Emotion Motional Ocean’, by contrast, go in with an iron hand. The Glichtrip remix of the track barely leaves anything behind, instead choosing to throw out a massive drum ‘n’ bass loop, under which occasional bursts of harsh guitar pierce through the beat. It’s only when you’re really familiar with the source material you’d even recognise the two sampled guitar parts as being from the Sail track. Whatever, it’s actually best to just try and enjoy this on its own merits – which, admittedly, isn’t going to be easy for everyone, but massive kudos to Sail for commissioning something very different.

Similarly, the KynanDestroyer remix builds something unique from the source materials, again, only leaving behind a few traces of Sail at work. Here, a slow trip hop groove emerges – sort of a lumbering Massive Attack sound – over which bell like melodies, weighty breakbeats and a massive bass do their bidding. Between the musical elements, a repeated vocal refrain from the original track echoes, almost ghost-like, as much about atmosphere as melody itself. Obviously, this latches onto a very 90s heart, but in a different way to Sail themselves. On its own merits, it’s absolutely brilliant; the deep bass groove is perfectly pitched, and the repetitious nature of the rhythm sets up an atmosphere that’s very familiar. It’s unlikely that huge fans of the trip hop sound will stumble upon this by accident, of course, but if they do, it’s almost guaranteed to please…

It’s great to hear Sail moving forward. In terms of noisy rock bands, they’re so open minded. No musical changes seem to be off limits, and as ‘Emotion Motional Ocean’ proves, they’re able to tackle some very different aspects of alternative rock and metal with ease. It’s a world away from ‘Flood’ which, in turn, was a dramatic shift from parts of 2017’s ‘Slumbersong’. If only a lot of prog bands could be this progressive

July 2022