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Like A Ship Sailing (2002)

RELEASE DATE: 12.10.02 RELEASE# L1005
RECORD LABEL: LUCKYHORSE INDUSTRIES
http://www.luckyhorseindustries.com/collections/on-sale/products/plan-b-like-a-ship-sailing

Mastered by Barry Corliss
Cover Artwork by Thomas Brierly with small additions by James van Leuven.
Inside booklet Illustration by Roy “Kay” Konitzer
Inside booklet Illustration by Christopher Hightower
Drums on Rich and Greedy were sampled from a Phil Ek engineered session with Automaton
Produced and Engineered by James van Leuven
Typography on front cover by Corianton Hale (http://www.corianton.com)
Trumpet by Bill Jones

This album is dedicated to Raina Brody.

Thank you to Matt Dresden, Joe Newton(http://www.josephnewton.com), and Corianton Hale for design consultation.

 

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In The Press:

THE STRANGER: MUSIC:UP AND COMING
Vol 12 No. 2, Sep 26 – Oct 2 2002
http://www.thestranger.com/2002-09-26/up_coming.html
By Charles Mudede

PLAN B, PAPILLON
(I-Spy) Plan B’s 2002 CD, Like a Ship Sailing, is better understood when compared with Land of the Loops’ 1996 release, Bundle of Joy. Both are similar in that they share a fondness for bizarre samples and beautiful sound effects generated by dusty equipment. But the differences between the artists (Plan B is James van Leuven; Land of the Loops is Alan Sutherland) are more instructive. As with Beck’s album Odelay, Land of the Loops’ hiphop beats are separate from and work in counterpoint to the alternative-rock melodies. Plan B’s music has no such division; everything instead seems organic and indigenous. This is why van Leuven’s music is startling: it’s not novel (like Beck’s) or experimental (like Land of the Loops’), but authentic.
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THE SEATTLE P.I.:ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT:MUSIC
Friday, September 20, 2002
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/pop/87731_club20.shtml

Down-tempo, downtown
By Joe Ehrbar

Ten years ago, if you were to say we’d all be digging music made on a simple laptop computer, we (correctly) would have questioned your sanity. Now, as we all know, the laptop revolution is in full swing, as clever musicians and DJs, like Seattle’s Plan B, totally reinvent the way music is made.

Plan B, which headlines I-Spy on Thursday (9 p.m.; $6), is a one-man operation, the product of Automaton drummer James Van Leuven. On his debut disc, “Like a Ship Sailing” (Luckyhorse Industries), Van Leuven does its all — playing the role of composer, producer, musician, DJ and beat-meister all by pointing and clicking on his laptop. Characterized by down-tempo grooves and illbient textures, “Like a Ship Sailing” rides a similar wavelength to albums made by other laptop impresarios such as DJ Shadow and Fog or guitarists like Aerial M. And its greatest strength is its musicality — the album’s songs don’t rely heavily on samples but on the imagination and musicianship of its creator.

On stage, Plan B is a multimedia experience. Van Leuven, who alternates between laptop and guitar, incorporates live musicians — typically a bassist and horn player — into the mix, while animated films are projected on the screen behind them.
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THE LOCAL PLANET WEEKLY:MUSIC
Vol. 3, Issue 37, September 12, 2002
http://www.thelocalplanet.com/Current_Issue/Culture/Article.asp?ArticleID=3161
Sticking to Plan B
Plan B boy James van Leuven takes things into his own hands and makes some of the coolest West Coast neo-indie experimentalism.
by Jeremy Hadley

Plan B boy James van Leuven takes things into his own hands and makes some of the coolest West Coast neo-indie experimentalism. On paper, Plan B might appear an appropriately titled split from the norm for Seattle musician James van Leuven: a cleverly-titled departure from a prolific indie rock career. Despite the catchy moniker, Plan B is nothing really new to van Leuven. “Basically I listen to a lot of hip-hop and other electronic stuff and had been messing around with drum machines for the last six years. But the drum machines never did it for me. Using the drum machines straight was too sterile for me. So I wanted to record myself drumming and then play and record to myself. It developed from that. I made millions of hip-hop beats that’ll never get used in my rock band.”

Van Leuven’s recording career began in 1997 with the self-titled release of the Seattle “rock band” trio Automaton Adventure Series (now simply Automaton), as the steady percussive element behind the band’s driving proto-punk indie sound suitable for Seattle’s weary throng of post-grunge listeners. Slowly, the band began to carve out a reputation as solid staple of the Emerald City’s live scene – facilitated by the band’s tremendous 1999 follow up Futura Transmitta.

Later that year, van Leuven surfaced as the sole male component to the Punk-pop trio The Sub Debs, formed out of the lush indie breeding ground of Olympia, WA and K Records. Joining van Leuven in The Sub Debs was singer/bassist Star Athena (formerly of The Flying Tigers) and singer/guitarist Jonatha Brooke (formerly of The Story), which spurned the release of She’s So Control. The relationship also spurned the development of a Star Athena solo project, on which van Leuven played several instruments and stumbled upon the core elements of the Plan B project. “I got some software and started messing around with it [on the Star Athena record]. We did that as a duo project and I ended up playing all the drums and a lot of the keyboards and guitars. Through that process I learned how to use ProTools. That was the first record when I really played guitar or frankly anything other than drums.” On the lo-fi punky K Records release Popsicle Summer, van Leuven tackled drum, bass, guitar, keyboard, backing vocals, engineering and production duties.

Out of the project came newfound confidence and drive, remembers van Leuven. “I just decided that I was going to record. I knew I had all these ideas and all these things I could do, I just needed to pick a time to do it.”
But the “rock band” thing came back into play first. In early 2002, van Leuven directed his productivity back into Automaton, resulting in the bands’ third release, Clarions and Banners. The release stands as the trio’s best offering to date, rationing out tight, atmospheric slabs of progressive and discordant technological rock.

In August of 2001, van Leuven turned his attention back to the concept of recording his own album. For nearly a month, van Leuven says he spent nearly every day in Automaton’s practice space recording what would eventually become the first Plan B release.

With the release of Like a Ship Sailing on September 3 of 2002, Plan B finally emerges on record, documenting van Leuven’s personal dictatorship of sound that remains congruent with the concept of freedom and individuality but devoid of democratic composition. “Now it’s just my project, and I feel more like I’m the producer or a conductor. I’m very excited about that — as well as the venue approach. Now I can play in a fucking café. I can’t do that with a loud-ass rock band. The music I make is just the music I make.” However, van Leuven says he still doesn’t have much control over how the music eventually sounds. “I don’t seem to have a whole lot of control over what it sounds like.” Which seems reasonable considering most of the music on Like a Ship Sailing is shapeless in direction, but defined in output. Playing the mutual role of electronic composer and director from behind a laptop, van Leuven creates emotive electronic textures via an array of influences — indie rock, hip-hop, electronica, jazz, and be-bop — best described by the artist himself as a melting pot of “basement studio music” — an apt description of both the Plan B process and sound.

“I played all the drum tracks except one on a ‘60s Ludwig three-piece drumset and then mixed in ProTools. The bass is a F60 VOX mini bass that I borrowed from my girlfriend. On the song ‘Love,’ I used a Casio keyboard. A lot of the background keyboard sounds are a Roland Juno 106. Wow, I don’t even know what kind of guitar I have — it’s a piece of shit. It’s not even worth mentioning. The funny thing about the guitar is that I have to stand [with the neck] in a right angle so it doesn’t make buzzing noises. If I move just two inches in any direction the thing just starts buzzing. Or I have to sit way across the room from the recording equipment so it isn’t buzzing all crazy.”

Save two trumpet tracks from friend and Automaton collaborator Bill Jones, Plan B is entirely under van Leuven’s rule. But live, Plan B is a completely different entity — a break from the static perils of a traditional rock act — with van Leuven dancing (busting break-dance moves is a staple of the Plan B live act) behind his laptop, manipulating recordings of himself on the drums, bass and guitar with the accompaniment of a live standup bass and trumpet and a breakdancer or two. “I believe in putting on a show,” says van Leuven of the unique setup. “Some people in indie rock bands go out and have their back to the audience and just wank on the guitar. There’s not really any point to that. You might as well just be listening to the record at home.”

Visually, van Leuven matchesPlan B’s sonic moods with the projection of original animation videos, easily making Plan B one of West Coast neo-indie experimentalism’s best — and only — acts.And van Leuven is quick to point out onedifference. “Visually, I’m not into the technobent-out, fractalgeometry art shit. I don’t want it to look like a kaleidoscope.I’mreally into the 2-D animation aesthetic. A lot of thecartoons that weshootare made in Flash and because they’re 2-D, they sort of have a Japanese feel tothem. The images — landscapes and characters — are moving around accentuating the motion of the songs. ”
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THE STRANGER: MUSIC:
Vol 11 No. 50, Aug 29 – Sep 4 2002
http://www.thestranger.com/2002-08-29/music2.html

thumb.planb9.200.jpg

BREAKIN’ AND ENTERING
Plan B Fuses Hiphop with B-Boy Skill
by Michael Alan Goldberg

Plan B
Record Release
Fri Aug 30, Chop Suey, 9pm, $6.

Just half a dozen shows into Plan B’s existence, and James van Leuven* is already playing down his renowned stage moves.

“I will breakdance if I feel like doin’ it,” he laughs. “That was never really something I was planning on being a staple of my show, and I’m still saying it’s not, but yeah, I might get down on the floor.”

Seattle music fans are used to seeing van Leuven’s limbs flailing around, though until now it’s only been as the drummer for the post-punk trio Automaton. But with Plan B, his new one-man project, the talented multi-instrumentalist with a taste for hiphop (and the occasional windmill) dives headfirst into beat-driven, quasi-electronic music.

“I wanted to do something based on why I play music, which is that I really get into the trance of a beat,” says van Leuven. “I’ve been messing around with drum machines for years, and I’m always just drumming by myself, so I wanted to do something just centered around the beat and not necessarily in a rock-song format. And I’d been thinking about it for so long that I finally\ decided I was ready, and I just did it.”

Long accustomed to the breakneck pace of pro studio recording (“Three days? Eight songs? Go!”), van Leuven submerged into his basement at the end of last winter, coming up with a dozen tracks–eight of which (if you include the hidden song) found their way into Plan B’s debut, Like a Ship Sailing (Luckyhorse Industries). The album’s opener, “Rich and Greedy”–featuring a crisp loop that commingles with desert-dwelling, reverbed guitar, sampled voices, and eerie keyboard embellishments-establishes a pensive mood that resurfaces throughout therecord. Taut beats an dark atmospherics drive the menacing “Plans for Tomorrow,” while “Mad Bombers” is built on an unsettling ambient soundscape that floats under a concerned female voice warning, “Howard just said he was going to blow his brains out next Tuesday….”

The disc is not an entirely melancholic affair, however. “Come Out Strong,” perhaps the disc’s most resplendent track, sports a killer breakbeat and muted trumpet passages that summon the ghost of Miles Davis. The song is also a prime illustration of how van Leuven’s vision mutated throughout the recording process. “When I wrote it, it felt like a straight hiphop track, but when I started laying down other things, it was amazing how it transformed where the song was going,” he explains. “Everything started from a beat. I would just play and play until I was as relaxed as possible and the beats came out well, and then I made loops out of that and started building from there with bass lines, keyboard lines, and melodies. I never really knew at the start how they would turn out.

“The whole record ended up being a lot more mellow than I thought it would be,” he reflects. “My first intention was to make stuff for people to get down to–make people move instead of just sittin’ around. But I think my indie-rock roots just got in there–plus feeling a bit blue at the time and being alone down there in the dead of winter–so it ended up becoming this introspective, downtempo kind of thing.”

Nonetheless, Plan B’s live performances mark van Leuven’s return from exile in unpredictable and highly collaborative fashion. Aside from spontaneous bursts of breakdancing, a Plan B show is known to include a stand-up bass player, trumpeter, and cellist accompanying van Leuven, who mans a laptop packed with all of his tracks and samples. The music is enhanced even further by unique visuals–an array of films and lighting effects presented in an especially striking way against a piece of scrim. “I was at this amazing club in Paris that’s actually inside the hull of a tugboat, and there were all these Japanese DJs who had a floating screen hanging on each side of them that made this 3-D effect. It was really awesome-looking, so it inspired me to do my [own] scrim idea.” Van Leuven is fortunate to have dedicated friends who currently contribute 2-D animations and video art to the live show, and he’s still reaching out to local visual artists who might want to share in the Plan B experience.

“I’m actually really interested in having a crew of people who are excited about doing the video portion of it. Maybe they’ve been doing something by themselves and they want to present it for five minutes. If I had five or six different people like that, I could have them come out and do one show or something–it would be cool. If someone comes with some harsh, industrial-type thing, obviously I’m not gonna be into it, but if I am into it and it goes with the music, I’d love to give them the opportunity to show it off.”

Ultimately, though, the spotlight is squarely on van Leuven, and he’s as eager to offer something new and compelling to the denizens of a decidedly rock town as he is to explore a different musical path for himself.

“I’m used to being behind a drum set on the back of a stage, so this whole project has been a lot of risk-taking for me,” he says. “It’s all my music, it’s all me. Like, ‘Okay, this is what I do.’ I don’t have any bandmates where I can go, ‘This is what we do,’ and so in a way it’s a little nerve-wracking to present it. But whatever–I’m really proud of it.”

*Editorial disclaimer: James van Leuven is on staff at The Stranger, but he works in the tech department, so really, the editorial department only sees him when its computers crash, and they really only crash when we spill Big Gulps all over our keyboards. And Michael Goldberg doesn’t even work in The Stranger offices, nor does he drink Big Gulps, so it’s very unlikely that van Leuven and Goldberg have had much of a chance to conspire against Seattle’s music community for any length of time.
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THE SEATTLE TIMES: Entertainment & the Arts: Night Watch:
Friday, August 23, 2002
http://www.seattletimes.com/planb

Night Watch / Tom Scanlon

thumb.planb9.200.jpg

Automaton drummer goes with Plan B, for now
By Tom Scanlon
Seattle Times staff reporter

Most of us have a fallback, also known as Plan B.

“Fine, if they’re going to expect me to show up on time, I can always go with Plan B and go back to waiting tables … ” “If I don’t get a call-back, I can always try … ” “Pay the rent, or go to Mexico? Well, there’s always the parents’ basement … ”

But what do you do if Plan B actually becomes more attractive than Plan A?

James van Leuven might face that choice, at some point. He’s pretty well-known around Seattle as the drummer for Automaton, an indie-rock band that has developed a solid audience over the past six years.

Now van Leuven has released “Like a Ship Sailing,” the first record by Plan B, on which van Leuven is pretty much a one-man band – percussion, bass, guitar, keyboards, all sorts of computer stuff. (His day job is managing the computers at the Stranger.)

“Like a Ship Sailing” is quite a treat, a delightful, bursting-with-ideas record with low-key drum-and-bass beats, quirky samples and mesmerizing loops.

“It’s just stuff that’s been brewing in me for a while,” says van Leuven, who grew up on the East Side and went to Newport High. While he’s still in Automaton, and will be recording with the band soon, “I’m focusing on Plan B now, trying to play as much music as possible.”

Plan B has been getting one show after another in the past few weeks. With van Leuven DJing via laptop, backed by live musicians and a video/light show, Plan B performs at I-Spy on Saturday (9 p.m., $8). FCS North, another Seattle act that mixes live music and DJ beats and samples, is also on this excellent bill, headlined by Ninja Tune Record’s Fog, the alias of DJ/producer Andrew Broder.

Tom Scanlon: 206-464-3891 or tscanlon@seattletimes.com.
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The Bellingham Herald
August 2, 2002
http://cityguide.bellinghamherald.com/fe/index.asp

Plan B, in the form of James van Leuven (above), takes the stage at The Factory on Saturday evening.
COURTESY PHOTO
Time for Plan B
Electronic music gets philosophical
by Tony Stasiek

In the mind’s eye, they hide in big dank spaces behind dry-ice clouds, Vick’s-sniffing bootymovers and ladies who exhale their names with a sultry Hungarian twist whenever applicable.

For better or worse, the DJ is music’s equivalent of the Wizard of Oz – the impenetrably headphoned figure behind the curtain.

Not Seattle’s James van Leuven.

“Yeah, I breakdance,” says van Leuven, the brains and brawn behind electronic-music outfit Plan B. “I pull it out whenever I get the itch.”

DJ Thirdwall de damned; freedom’s the blueprint for Plan B.

Drummer for angular rock band Automaton, van Leuven took a month’s vacation from his job as computer guy for Seattle weekly The Stranger last fall to play with his new sound-editing equipment. He emerged with “Like a Ship Sailing,” Plan B’s debut CD for Luckyhorse Industries.

Similar to early DJ Krush records or Dntel’s instrumental tracks, “Like a Ship Sailing” finds a downtempo medium between indie rock (i.e. sparse guitar parts) and indie club fodder (i.e. fuzzy hip-hop beats that get all squiggly).

At least, that was the plan. The songs began with van Leuven banging on the drums and recording his good ideas – similar to the processes that go into an Automaton track.

“From there, it’s really not the same at all,” he says. “(In Automaton) we spend all time writing songs in a democratic way with the three of us, which means sitting around and goofing around for a while. Here, I did all of my instrumentation, all the drum beats myself and made the kind of live music that I just produced the hell out of. In the end, it’s a soup that sounds more polished, more like electronic music.”

Next, van Leuven spliced in appropriately sampled movie dialogue, much like mid-’90s found-sound icons DJ Shadow and DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid.

Take “Love,” in which a warm bed of vibraphones accompany a kid gettin’ philosophical about affection.

“I just decided how the songs made me feel, and from that inspiration, I decided a theme for the songs and fulfilled that by using movie dialogue,” he says.

Clear-cut, yes. But the tracks don’t always follow as easily: Underneath co-workers musing, “Howard says he’s going to blow his brains out next Tuesday” on “Mad Bombers,” van Leuven places a lilting sample of ocean waves. He says it was inspired by his grandfather’s home on the Oregon coast.

“It’s this natural sound of relaxation – and then this stuff about the city and the television, how everything is so overblown,” van Leuven says. “I thought it was kind of an interesting idea.”

He’s got more of ’em, adding a standup bassist, trumpeter and animated-video projection to Plan B’s live set. Oh right, and the breakdancing, a holdover from his grade-school days as a Kool and the Gang and Donna Summer aficionado.

“But it’s usually not a requirement,” van Leuven says. “Some venues do not have any room to do it. But when my friends come out, I jump out and throw down. Definitely.”
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Delusions of Adequacy, PO Box 23554, Rochester, NY 14692
September 9, 2002
http://www.adequacy.net/reviews/p/planb.shtml

Plan B, Like a Ship Sailing, Luckyhorse Industries
Down-tempo/indie/electronic/DJ Shadow/DJ Krush/Portishead/Meat Beat Manifesto
by Elyn Beth

Some relationships start in a curious way; as you get to know someone you initially think they are annoying but not enough to be rude to. Then, without even noticing it, they have become a good friend and the question is no longer whether you should spend time with them but if there should be something more. At some point you fall in love and the whole thing just sort of snuck up on you. The reality is that just takes awhile to start digging someone or something in a real way. Like a Ship Sailing by Plan B is the musical equivalent to this romantic situation. During the course of three listens, I went from “it’s not me, it’s you,” to “it’s not you, it’s me,” and finally ended up at “nevermind all that, let’s make out.”

This persistent little album is the work of James van Leuven, a member of the west coast post-punk outfit Automoton. His solo foray out of the rock scene is a surprisingly vibrant down-tempo electronic album. His work has built up a decent level of credibility in the fickle Seattle scene due to his interesting live shows that feature multimedia film displays and his own break-dancing prowess.

What makes this album initially so hard to sink into but ultimately so enjoyable is diversity of the album. The sound doesn’t really fall into one consistent theme, but it still manages to maintain coherence within its malleability. One thread that does run through the work is the use of various audio samples that could get creepy if they were done by someone else but, in this context, remain chilled out and enjoyable. “Love” features the repitition of an audio sample that becomes its own instrumental force imbedded in the twinkly, sweet electronic loops. The real stand-out of the album is “Plans for Tomorrow,” which features a dirty and satisfying bass loop. This minimal songcarries a delicious grit to it without shaking the overall chilled out mood of the album.

While Plan B doesn’t really reach the creative heights of his influences, Like a Ship Sailing remains a great output in its own right. A decidedly enjoyable record whether you are a DJ or just looking for something to slowly fall in love with.
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Junk Media
August, 2002
http://www.junkmedia.org/01/53/albanese53.html

 

Record Review of Plan B, Like a Ship Sailing, Luckyhorse Industries, 2002
by Robert Albanese
“It is happening again…it is happening again.” The ominous Twin Peaks sample that ends DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…, in retrospect, sounds like the artist’s own prophecy of the future. In the six years following that moment, a deluge of hip-hop futurists have sought to make their mark with their version of Shadow’s reconfiguration of sample-based music. Meanwhile, Shadow seemed to be heading down the path of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields-a remix here, a side project there-until this year, when he finally dropped his sophomore effort, The Private Press. Rather than the expected return to the throne, The Private Press finds Shadow dropping a rose on the seat and walking away, as the citizens vie for a title now bereft of its signifying power. So, where does that leave their music?

The approach taken by James van Leuven, a.k.a. Plan B, thus comes into question. Plan B is van Leuven’s attempt to fuse an ominous, sample-driven sound with live instrumentation. The music is not revolutionary, but sharp guitar and drum arrangements mark an engaging performance. The drum flourishes on “Love” add some twitches to the neck-snapping beat, and “Rich and Greedy” features some fine call-and-response play between the guitar and bass.
Thematically, Plan B wrestles with the dark tone of the music, oscillating between surrender and triumph. The songs lift our eyes toward the sun, only to pull them back into the shadows. “Don’t Ever Look Back,” Like a Ship Sailing’s last listed track, suggests a reconciliation of these poles with a mournful guitar finally expressing hope for its elegized subject. However, five minutes of silence give way to a final surrender, a droning trip toward oblivion.

This struggle becomes very predictable, unfortunately, as the tracks listed above follow a punch-counterpunch rhythm, and the foundation-providing loops are not entirely engrossing. Some of the music is derivative, notably “Come Out Strong,” which could easily have been jacked from DJ Krush’s work with trumpeter Toshinori Kondo. The samples and electronic elements of the record, the basis for van Leuven’s experiment as Plan B, ultimately depend on the live instruments, the complicating factor in the DJ Shadow paradigm.

Then again, perhaps the Plan B moniker is a declaration of its own. With so many turntablists and knob-turners chasing the grail, van Leuven might be providing an alternative. By employing barely manipulated samples, he allows the live arrangements to break down found sounds, turning the genre inside out. Like a Ship Sailing might not sound like anything new, but it does suggest a fresh approach to what has become a tired revolution.
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Allmusic.com
http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=B45rv288i05oa
Review by Kenyon Hopkin
On Like a Ship Sailing, Plan B’s James van Leuven steps beyond his drumming for Automaton and allows percussion to be the focus. Laying a foundation of trip-hop beats, van Leuven (who handles nearly all of the instrumentation) implements sampling and crawly guitars and bass. The record possesses the darker atmospheres of trip-hop but without the accompanying vocals. There’s also a spy film aura that permeates much of the album. Sometimes it gets a little too dark with the disturbing line, “Howard just said he was going to blow his brains out next Tuesday.” It’s balanced by a child asking, “Have you ever been in love?,” in “Love,” which flirts with breakbeats. “Come out Strong” has a finger-snapping cool jazz vibe with trumpet from Bill Jones. This project might be “plan B” for van Leuven, but his great job with live percussion makes it grade-A post-rock.
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Plan B
Like A Ship Sailing (Lucky Horse Industries)
By: Alex Steininger
Like A Ship Sailing is a stroll through the park at midnight, a re-cap of the madness of the day, set to soothing beats. It is a slumbering instrumental disc filled with submissive indie rock grooves, and plenty of samples to give the songs character. One listen and Like A Ship Sailing will become the vibe you wish to wind down to each night, it’s smoky grooves and indie-rock pop structure something that excites you, as you struggle to keep away, eventually deciding not to fight temptation and go for it. I’ll give it a B.
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Lost At Sea – review at:
http://www.lostatsea.net/LAS/archives/reviews/records/planb.htm

SLAMM San Diego CityBeat – review at:
http://www.slammsd.com/article.php?id=1032&atype=SoundWave

Splendid E-Zine – review at:7/23/2002
http://www.splendidezine.com/review.html?reviewid=3235575056330859

Plan B, Like A Ship Sailing, Luckyhorse Industries,

I can see the appeal of this sort of shimmering, slow-as-a-barge, beat-driven stuff — it’s pretty, and someone once told me that the sluggish beats put the listener subconsciously in mind of his/her mother’s heartbeat. My position has always been, if you want so badly to listen to your mother’s heartbeat, for God’s sake go straight to the source and hold a microphone up to your mother’s chest. Layer some minimalist guitar work on top, embellish liberally with kitschy and/or enigmatic samples and tasteful keyboards and you’ve got yourself the real primal deal. But no one listens. Instead they go in for the likes of Plan B’s debut album, which is nice enough, but lacks a little in substance and impact.

Plan B is James van Leuven, a Washington state resident who mixes familiar downtempo elements (the aforementioned aortic beats, atmospheric guitars and keyboards, samples) with the odd jazz and rock flourish (nice vibes and trumpet on “Come Out Strong”, Calexico-style Western guitar on “Rich and Greedy”). Van Leuven arranges these songs well — he never succumbs to clutter, nor does he leave any track sounding too spare. He has a way with samples, too. There are a lot of dialogue snippets on the album, and it’s to van Leuven’s credit that they don’t seem superfluous. On “Love”, a sample of a child asking, “Have you ever been in love?” lends sad overtones to what would otherwise have been standard-issue, vaguely eerie trip-hop. My favorite track of the bunch is “Hope”, a gentle, idyllic, dialogue snippet-free track that’s about as warm and pretty as beat-driven music gets. But just as surely as “Hope” got me curled into the fetal position, the next track, with its samples of people talking about suicide and mad bombers, uncurled me quick.
So there’s a lot to like on this album, but I can’t say any of the seven songs stuck with me, even after several listens. Plan B undoubtedly has the skills necessary to excel in his chosen genre — now he just needs some hooks. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t know a decent downtempo hook if it rocked me to sleep at night. Or perhaps I have issues with my mother that I’m unfairly projecting onto Plan B…
— Scott Jacobson