At once jaunty and powerful, loose-limbed and anthemic, “Once, I Was a Mainsail” holds many charms within its concise, pop-perfect 3:46 time frame. Right away, there’s the brief but ear-catching introduction, which establishes the song’s swaying 2/4 swing with some crafty interval jumps, as the guitar lopes from the first to the fourth to the sixth, via those slurred half-steps. It’s an attention-grabbing way to lead back into the first again, albeit an octave higher. The song is five seconds old at this point.
Then there’s swing itself, which after the guitar-based intro is articulated only by bass and drum in the first verse, the bass playing with the same intervals as the introduction, but with the sixth below rather than above the tonic. Establishing the melody only against the rhythm section serves to focus us on the imaginative lyrics, introducing the titular metaphor, with this lyrical payoff, sung as the rhythm abruptly breaks down: “You were the only thing that I would tie myself to.” And then, just when you might begin to wonder where exactly this is swinging us to, the band, literally, breaks into song: those gang vocals at 0:48 nailed this one for me, they were just too unexpected and perfect. (For those keeping score at home, this part yet again ends on that original sixth note that haunts and anchors the entire song.)
A quartet when previously featured here in March 2009, Kinch is now a five-man band, still based in Phoenix, still with that James Joyce-inspired name of theirs. “Once, I Was a Mainsail” is a new single, also available via the band’s web site. The song will eventually appear on the band’s next album, The Incandenza—and if the band’s Ulysses-based name isn’t enough, this next album is named after the family in Infinite Jest. It’s hard not to be fond of a band that is repeatedly inspired by long, impenetrable books.