20. Port O’Brien – All We Could Do Was Sing
You know how your English teacher in school told you not to start your story with waking up? Well, Port O’Brien don’t care what your English teacher says. All We Could Do Was Sing opens with a fantastic, cathartic track called “I Woke Up Today”, sung (or shouted) by everyone in the band in unison. It’s one of those songs that turns into the only thing you can think about for a couple of weeks. Communal and celebratory. Other than this, Port O’Brien do a good line in nautically-themed folky indie. From ‘Moby Dick’ to ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, the ocean has always been an excellent paradigm for the more solitary emotions in the spectrum. Port O’Brien sell the sea myth pretty hard, but the fact that main songwriter Van Pierszalowski genuinely does commercially fish for salmon makes for heightened fascination with his lyrics. ‘Fisherman’s Son’ is a particularly salient example of this, expressing the conflict that arises from having to drop real life and go to sea for several months. The closer, ‘Valdez’, is a short, sleepy ditty that begins with the line “Exxon, Exxon, clean it up” and sounds like it was recorded on a dictaphone buried under a large pile of laundry. The album is varied enough to be continuously interesting, and if ever you wanted a break from the stresses of real life, there are worse places to look for it than Port O’Brien.
This review differs to the others, and is kind of spazzy, because I did it for Analogue right after I got the CD. The original print review, a live review and a full length interview all archived on the Analogue site.
19. Parenthetical Girls – Entanglements
Slender Means Society
A sprawling orchestral pop album conceived and realised over the course of four years by a man who claims not to “know a G from an A”. Worried? Don’t be. The defining moment of this album comes at its very beginning, as if to rebut scepticism and speak for itself before anyone has a chance to second guess it. A piano key is tentatively struck. A few chords are sounded, as if to test not only the instrument, but also the ear of the listener. Then, a flourish of violins and Zac Pennington appears to take it the rest of the way. ‘Four Words’ is very much emblematic of the album as a whole – a vocal narrative of literate lust, familiar from previous releases, but carefully supported by an impossibly complex artifice of hundreds of individual instrumental tracks from bumbling brass to Andrew Bird-esque pizzicatos. One possible criticism is that the arrangements, while all orchestral or at least “big” in some way, don’t necessarily follow any central theme, and the mood can swing between the baroque and the Disney soundtrack from song to song. But that is a small price to pay for a record of such sustained poise and elegance. And the pop tunes are here too, by the way.
Here’s a music video, and here’s a good interview from The Torture Garden blog.
18. Santogold – Santogold
So what is Santi White, if not a high-end cash-in on Maya Arulpragasam’s adoption as culturally “important” in the UK, and as hot shit in the USA? What is this, if not M.I.A.-lite? Let’s investigate – similar vocal style, similar sense of style writ large, but without the pervasive politics and fear underwriting the pulp tendencies. ‘Creator’ is the first single off the album, produced by Switch, the man responsible for much of Kala, and it very much recalls M.I.A.’s atonal sung-rap and dirty beats. But the true standout is the second single and opening track of the album, and it blocks that line of thought completely. ‘L.E.S. Artistes’ is three and a half minutes of perfectly juxtaposed artiness and emotion rolled into a pop song, and it casts its positive shadow on the rest of the album. It’s not Maya A, it’s… Karen O? ‘Shove It’ sees White ride a dub bassline into the future, and ‘I’m A Lady’ comes across like a new ‘Gigantic’ by the Pixies with Kim Deal’s puerile lyrics subbed out for considered maturity and an updated genius pop chorus. The mish-mash of styles that makes up the album could make it awkwardly disjointed, but instead it creates what comes across as a fantastic extended demo-tape to spite the world. What Santi White is essentially saying is that she can do anything, and she can do it well. Compelling listening.
The magnificent L.E.S. Artistes from Pitchfork.tv, and the nuclear weirdness of an unrelated Santo Gold at his site.
17. The Mae Shi – Hllyh
I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this. I just don’t know what it is. You see, I literally walked in on the Mae Shi by accident, having been guestlisted for another band. I missed the write-ups, the historification by blog and trial-by-comments-section that usually characterise my introduction to an American band. So I’m not completely sure what I’m supposed to think of Hlllyh. All I know about their context is that one of them was wearing a No Age bandana, which he gave to Coady, possibly assuming it would be returned. This lack of grounding makes it very hard to know what to make of spazzy, synthy, poppy hardcore with very overt Old Testament rapture influences in the lyrics. It’s more than influence, really. It’s at the point of being a concept album. When the singer says, speaking as God, “they lost the scent, and I don’t even care why they didn’t repent/We need a new creation” on ‘Pwnd’, it’s so left-field compared to anything else I’ve ever heard that I really don’t know what to think. Maybe I’m supposed to be perplexed. I could do the research, but I’m not sure I want to, like the apocalyptic evangelists the Mae Shi reference/are. If missionaries put this kind of perverse pop punk energy into proselytising, I’m sure millions more would be saved.
Only a link to a previous post here because, like I said, I’m not doing the legwork here.
16. Department of Eagles – In Ear Park
You know what? Grizzly Bear have taken way too long following up Yellow House. That album was, and still stands as, a work of singular originality and genius. But what do Rossen, Droste and company spend their time doing nowadays? Well, Ed Droste leaks Animal Collective songs. And Daniel Rossen? Well, he makes interesting albums with pre-Grizzly Bear bandmates. Much of Rossen’s trademarks from the fatherband are still present: the guitars are split between folky fingerpicking and 50s palm-mute plucking, and the arrangements are largely no different. However, the influence of Fred Nicolaus adds a certain spice, and his Destroyer-esque voice is a welcome change of pace to Rossen’s effortless drawl. In fact, Nicolaus’ ‘Teenagers’ is a definite highlight. There is also, I fancy, a vaguely perceptible hint of GB touring partners Radiohead slipping into some of the lush arrangements. On the whole, though, the mood is the same as that of Yellow House – play this alone, late at night, and let it work its magic.
Plenty (including a rooftop P4K session and a Takeaway Show) to be had on the DoE site and then also a great Daytrotter to enjoy.