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Analog comfort

Silver Ships make melancholy pop with '60s inspirations

Chazz Bessette and Silver Ships chase that Harry Nilsson sound. Photo credit: Naomi Cherie Photography

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The Beatles were fond of saying that their favorite contemporary American musician was Harry Nilsson, and it's not hard to see why. With the voice of an angel, capable of operatic bravado ("Without You"), surging rock wails ("Jump Into the Fire"), and impish character work ("Coconut"), Nilsson was an almost unmatched talent. Additionally, the Beatles probably saw a lot of themselves in Nilsson's music; you could describe the man as a combination of Lennon and McCartney, possessing Paul's flights of fancy and Lennon's biting cynicism, bolstered by a chameleonic voice that could out-sing anyone this side of Roy Orbison.

I didn't know any of this when I took a chance on a discount bin vinyl copy of Son of Schmilsson, Nilsson's sequel to his seminal Nilsson Schmilsson album. As a 15-year-old budding music enthusiast, just coming off of being introduced to the worlds of They Might Be Giants, Ween, and Tom Waits, I was in the perfect position to be exposed to Nilsson's kaleidoscopic world of majestic melodies and cheekily tossed-off curiosities. Even when Nilsson kept you at arm's length, everything felt tactile and lived-in - a feeling perfectly embodied by the iconic Nilsson Schmilsson cover, featuring Nilsson in a bathrobe with a cigarette dangling from his lips.

Countless bands have found themselves chasing the sound of the Beatles and Harry Nilsson, which may be a futile endeavor, but gems do pop up along the way. Even if Silver Ships hadn't mentioned so in their bio, it would be clear to any listener that these are musicians who revel in warmth, humanity, and humor of Nilsson. "Poor Thief of Hearts," the opener on Silver Ships' Songs From a Room That Never Moves, features the mix of jaunty melodies and melancholy emotions that defined much of Nilsson's output. Its light psychedelia and tight harmonies also remind one of early Of Montreal, back when they fetishized candy-colored psych-folk.

Hailing from Portland by way of Austin, Silver Ships is a trio obsessed with analog comfort, creating songs that wrap your ears in cotton to protect you from the cold. Each song is immaculately produced, showcasing different sides to Silver Ships: the ground-level earthiness of the Band; the shimmering, wounded pop of Big Star; the wide-eyed awe of the Beach Boys; the guarded honesty of Neil Young. Bandleader Chazz Bessette's voice most frequently resembles Alex Chilton's delicate warble, and "There Were Trees" may as well be Big Star pastiche, with its wistful harmonies and insistent sleigh bells.

Most of the tracks on Songs From a Room That Never Moves extend past the four-minute mark, some approaching seven minutes. This isn't a factor of Silver Ships noodling around or going on whimsical excursions - most of these songs are based in old-fashioned structures. The length of the songs, though, allow room for both Silver Ships and the listener to stretch out and get lost in the sound. None of these songs are in a hurry, feeling perfectly comfortable to drift along and find their ending point whenever it feels most natural. As a result, the album has a tendency to lazily roll on by, with songs bleeding into each other.

"A Room That Never Moves," the penultimate song, diverges from Silver Ships' usual sound: a sad-sack piano ballad, this is perhaps the closest that the band comes to writing something that would feel right on Son of Schmilsson. It captures that way that Nilsson sometimes had of seeming like he was smiling through teary eyes. Though Silver Ships' may be autumnal in tone, their eyes seem trained on the bright return of the sun.

SILVER SHIPS, w/ Rosewater, Hannah Yeun, Portable Disko, 9 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 12, $7, Obsidian, 414 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.890.4425,

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