Propelled by serious ambition and layered songwriting, the Synthwave-inclined GUNSHIP trio fly for their life on their newly released second album, Dark All Day.
While it would be wrong to say that GUNSHIP have been absent since their successful debut album of the same name in 2015, fans of the sound and distinct flair that the band have become known for were left awaiting a new full-length release.
Now, on their sophomore album Dark All Day, vocalist Alex Westaway and multi-instrumentalists Dan Haigh and Alex Gingell remind their audience why this project was worth waiting for. In doing so, they present a series of diverse-sounding songs that join to create an album that demands the listener’s attention.
Presenting a unique approach to retro sounds through their musical histories
On the surface, it can be easy to miss what makes GUNSHIP’s music so distinct and fresh. After all, they primarily exist in a genre dedicated to paying homage to sounds inspired by the soundtracks of the ‘80s.
What makes GUNSHIP a standout name in the Synthwave genre is the band’s ambition. They continually prove that they are much more than just a tribute to the retro sounds and sensibilities enjoyed by a growing, yet still niche, community.
At the current point in time, they are yet to take their act to the real world, serving as a digital band for the time being. In a recent Reddit AMA, Westaway said this could change if the UK-based trio figure out how to capture their essence in physical form. For the time being, the band’s allusion-dense and intricate music videos have become their hallmark.
The band’s new album Dark All Day is rife with songs that are true to the album’s title, presenting GUNSHIP at their most moody. Across the album, a handful of tracks are willing to ‘play fast and loose’ with the volume slider, seeming at times maniac and even nu metal-inspired. Luckily, these pursuits rarely feel too melancholic or forced, perhaps thanks to Alex Westaway and Dan Haigh’s previous involvement in the on-again, off-again British rock band Fightstar.
“Thrasher,” a song which is bound to be divisive among Synthwave ‘purists,’ somehow manages to sound like a drug-induced rave in one moment, and an edgy 2000’s rock song in the next. The band masterfully connects these sounds through a sweet-yet-indecent hook that ensures the song still feels true to the band.
GUNSHIP deliver on expectations, while keeping things fresh
Going into the album, I naively feared that the band may have given too much away ahead of time with their lead singles. While the release of “Woken Furies” marked the fourth stellar single from the album, these songs are mere appetizers for the larger course.
The album’s guest stars do a great job of adding flavour when needed, with Indiana, Una Healy, and Beau Corbeau (Stella Le Page) giving memorable performances on their respective tracks. Tim Cappello’s saxophone work on the titular track “Dark All Day” adds significantly to the song’s merit, melting with Indiana’s strong vocal performance to create one of the most memorable singles in the GUNSHIP discography.
Thanks to the band leveraging their borrowed sounds from a place of genuine admiration, rarely do any moments on the album feel ‘corny.’ While cheesy vocal deliveries and lyrics are a mainstay of the genre, the band never enters territory that feels manufactured.
Even “When You Grow Up Your Heart Dies,” a song that features vocal snippets from GUNSHIP’s fans, manages to be heartwarming. While the decision to include these segments could have been handled poorly by another artist, the band manages to avoid the pitfalls of overdoing the song’s sentiment.
GUNSHIP’s biggest merit is their earnest exploration of sounds
The trio manage to weave together various sounds throughout the album. This could have felt disjointed, were it not for the consistently earnest approach that the band takes with their songwriting.
Despite operating in a genre that may create a self-enforced pressure for the band to ease off the vocals in favour of instrumentals or a more heavily vocoded delivery, Alex Westaway is rarely shy to present his voice as both human and vulnerable.
This is perhaps most notable on “Time After Time,” a cover that arrives in middle of the album. Upon first reading the song’s title in the tracklist a few months ago, this was the song I was most cautiously intrigued to hear.
To the band’s praise, this is one of the songs where Dan Haigh and Alex Gingell make the clever choice to let Westaway steal the show, as he is presented at perhaps his most vocally ‘naked.’ For the majority of the song, Alex Westaway is joined by only quiet synths, allowing the audience to appreciate that the song is much more than just a needless cover designed to evoke nostalgia for Cyndi Lauper’s classic 1984 hit.
Dark All Day benefits from the band’s confident approach to risk taking. This allows them the flexibility and freedom to make mistakes, though there are arguably few on the album. Despite almost every song reaching upwards of the five minute mark, rarely do they feel their length thanks to creative turns and song structures.
Perhaps the only exception to this rule is “Rise the Midnight Girl.” While I appreciate the intent of the song and the execution of its climax, the song suffers from its placement between “Thrasher” and “The Drone Racing League;” two of the album’s heavy and ultimately standout moments. Still, the song is far from bad. Its only real crime is interrupting the album’s momentum in the first half.
The second half – which presents some of the band’s best music to date – avoids suffering from awkward sequencing. It transitions seamlessly from songs like “Honour Among Thieves” to “Art3mis & Parzival;” a song which my appreciation grew for immensely thanks to its placement on the album.
“Symmetrical” is a song that presents yet another refreshing change on the album. At points, it sounds like it could have served as GUNSHIP’s radio-friendly pop crossover, were Westaway’s vocals not at times lost in the instrumental.
Closing tracks “Cyber City” and “The Gates of Disorder” succeed at carrying the album’s momentum across its final stretch, allowing it to conclude with a solid finish.
As mentioned earlier, the most promising ingredient in GUNSHIP’s music is their sincere approach to their homages and songwriting. It’s no secret that the band boasts fantastically-grand and heavily-stylized music videos, many of which helped the band gain momentum at the time of their debut record.
The fact is, GUNSHIP probably could have coasted behind the style that oozes from their music videos, while presenting no substance in their songs. They could have taken the easier route of pandering to the growing consumption of Synthwave and Retrofuturisim among internet communities. Thankfully, they didn’t.
Instead, they once again makes every conscious decision to be more than just a compilation of their influences. Dark All Day is a fantastic album with a lot to revisit, and few in the way of failed experiments.