ballboy – I Worked On the Ships

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

I think by now it’s fair to conclude that ballboy are no more; they last released a full-length album in 2008 and since then have only given us an EP, back in 2013, and a series of pandemic-related home recordings (I think). That’s fine; I don’t mourn this arc. I think they had as strong a run as any other small, underfunded indie band of the 2000s. Each album of theirs has brought me joy. They have every reason to be proud. ballboy is dead; long live ballboy.

What I Think of This Album

While A Guide for the Daylight Hours is my favorite ballboy album, I Worked On the Ships is the most beautiful, accomplished ballboy album. ballboy takes the quieter material from The Royal Theatre (or perhaps more accurately, The Sash My Father Wore and Other Stories) and expands on it, delivering a lean set of songs that for the most part eschews the usual cynicism and leaps heartfirst into naked sincerity.

On the one hand, it was never any secret that Gordon McIntyre was a romantic bastard, even as (or because) he seemed to always want to remind you of the bastard part. And again, he went down this road on Sash, before pulling back. So this approach is not unexpected. On the other hand, ballboy always seems more comfortable with their punchier, sardonic pop material, and their slower work varied in quality; this transition is not implausible but somewhat risky.

Still, they have not completely forsaken their old strengths, and so on “Disney’s Ice Parade,” you get to hear “You left your notes on lesbian sex / On the fishtank in the hall / It took me all afternoon / To read them all / I learned more in that day / Than I’ve ever learned before / I don’t think you and I / Should go clubbing anymore.” Despite this, it is a heartwarming, ukelele-centric declaration of devotion and faith (“What could be more glorious than you and me?”), even if it takes place against a backdrop of drunk mothers and absent fathers.

McIntyre lays himself bare on almost every song, with relatively spare instrumentation, and asks you to leave him or take him at face value. It is remarkable and deeply moving, and something he has not done since Sash. “A Relatively Famous Victory” slowly builds as stately New Order keyboard chords swell and then the cello fucking starts and McIntyre (with harmony by Alexa Morrison) admits “I breathe the air when you walk by / It’s wider than my heart is wide” and if you don’t literally swoon then you’re forbidden from ever speaking to me. And this is just one of many.

“The Guide to the Short Wave Radio” starts with birdsong and within seconds, against cello, piano, and gentle harmonica, McIntryre is inviting someone “So kiss me in the night / Dismantle my whole life.” “Songs for Kylie” cracks your heart over its knee as it reveals what happens to probably most of the mixtapes ever made. “Cicily” picks up the pace and Morrison plays the melodica in the style of some Parisian accordionist (just trust me – that’s what it sounds like).

“We Can Leap Buildings and Rivers But Really We Just Wanna Fly” doubles down on the sentimentality (while upping the bossa nova factor), with lyrics like “Your heart should be beating the same beat as mine,” only to be matched by the truth-telling in “Absent Friends” behind lyrics like “Try your best not to smile at me / It’s more than I can take / Or stand in close proximity / It’s more than I can take.” This album is simply stunning.

Trivia: this album was released by the Pony Proof label. It is release PPR001. I think this is one of two albums I own that are the first release of their labels.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Absent Friends” hits very close to the bone.

Release Date

August, 2008

The Cover Art

Pretty good. Easily the best of ballboy’s career. The different elements work well together and I like the text box and underlining, as well as the ink dots on the far left of the cover (part of an ellipses that wraps around from the back of the booklet). The image is actually more blue and less green than what I was able to upload.

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