by Derek Eisel
Listening to the Fieldboats Cascadian Anthem I can’t help thinking how perfectly named it is.
The Boats have been the unofficial band of Lopez Island for the last decade, where frontman, songwriter and guitarist Chris Aiken lived for years (now in Bellingham area) and Doug Poole (bass), John Platter (Drums) and Kevin Sullivan (banjo, trumpet) currently reside. A few weeks ago they headlined the third annual Lopez Uncovered Music Festival, a two-day event that they founded three years ago which involved many volunteers. I could feel the appreciation of the large crowd dancing barefoot on the lawn in the last of the August light.
The first song on Cascadian Anthem, 21st Century, is a soaring Cascadian anthem with an exuberant, quirky beat reminiscent of Vampire Weekend but crossed with a mystical woodsiness like the Cave Singers. A deep musicianship comes throughout the album with multi-instrumentalists John Platter and Kevin Sullivan also contributing horns, harmonies and other stuff, and Geoff Heard jumping in on pedal steel, Hawk Arps on keys and Jesse Hammond on blistering guitar solos. In addition to Aiken’s’ skilled acoustic and electric guitar, Aikens’ vocals soar. His occasional yodel and goatlike bleating, along with beats from Platter, Poole’s baselines and Sullivan’s driving electric banjo, make me feel the animal in me.
I feel most connected to Aiken’s lyrics when he speaks to the connection he and his family have to this special region where we live, songs that include Cascadia and their local classic Ocean Spray. I also dig when he’s calling out the hypocrisy of the consumeristic and often violent American culture, songs like the incredibly vibey Square Lot, and the boppie and very fun Monopoly. The Boats’ songs are just as at home for me dancing barefoot on a field of grass with a whole bunch of locals as they are when I’m alone in my garden listening to my headphones.
Unlike some contemporaries who call out our culture for the same reasons, but provide no path out, Aiken suggests a lyrical way forward. When the band really starts to jam, like at the end of 21st Century, it feels like you could live and work with your neighbors joyously on a small island, growing your own food and going to each others’ shows. It’s like the Fleet Foxes lyric “If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore,” but skipping the LA part and actually doing it.
The recording did a great job capturing the Fieldboats energy, live feel and harmonious complexity, but If you get the chance to catch the Fieldboats live, do it. You will leave smiling, dancing, and respecting the band not just for their musicianship, but for singing about stuff that is real and beautiful.