Tag Archives: Port O’Brien

The Year. 20-16

20. Port O’Brien – Threadbare [US]
In 2008, Port O’Brien made an album that started with a thunderous, celebratory rumpus. This one starts with solemn humming. Why? Well, if you need some biography to help your music go down, it’s because Cambria Goodwin’s younger brother died in the interim. The album is indelibly imprinted with the mark of that death, devoid of the joie de vivre of All We Could Do Was Sing, but full of frail vulnerability. It meanders along, like a solitary walk on a funeral weekend, flitting in and out of immediate consciousness. Hard to see how they will follow this, but it’s a captivating document.

Interviewed Cambria Goodwin and Van Pierszalowski in Analogue in 2008.

19. BATS – Red In Tooth and Claw [IRL]
Eventually, in music, technology gets subsumed into the general pool of things you can sing about. While we may still be disappointingly waiting for a body of work about loitering on Facebook 14 hours a day, we have reached the point where the Large Hadron Collider has entered currency. So we get BATS, writing precision post-hardcore about girls looking beautiful in the “ray light”, and having to meet and greet to get further funding for research projects. Maybe you’d prefer not to invite them to dinner parties, then, but this is progressive, danceable in a Blood Brothers kind of way, and unfailingly novel.

There’s a BATS Interview Project, and also an excellent video for Shadow Fucking.

18. Jay Reatard – Watch Me Fall [US]
You have to presume that Jay Reatard probably just knocks out short, melodic punk songs without regard for reception or legacy. If not, then this is the successor to Blood Visions, an all-time great, and should be judged as such. The best fast songs (e.g. It Ain’t Gonna Save Me) would easily stand up on the predecessor, but as a whole, Watch Me Fall follows on from the 2008 Matador singles, with keyboards, acoustic guitars and non-breakneck tempos setting up permanent camp. If “I’m watching you and all the things you do” is Jay’s idea of slowing it down, however, there’s no need to worry about him going soft.

Jay with his old, fatter band that left him, and his Twitter, the first stop for keeping up with who he’s feuding with.

17. The XX – xx [ENG]
Not so much a tundra as a frosty cityscape. While it’s sometimes hard to tell how even members of the XX know which song they’re playing at a given time, the overall effect of the album’s whispered minimality means that it doesn’t matter. This is an album for being melancholy to. Not drenched in reverb, a la J+MC, but iced in it, this is what you resort to when you couldn’t walk it off, and you couldn’t pretend like you didn’t care. It also boasts probably the best song called “Intro” since people began thinking structurally about albums. Teenage simplicity is sometimes required to express things that are teenage in their simplicity.

Totally Dublin interviewed the XX at Electric Picnic, but more importantly Carles thinks they are chill.

16. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another [WAL]
Hey, guess what? It’s Falco, so it’s fucking loud and uniquely sardonic. With energy and aggression at levels that Fight Like Apes would probably sacrifice their parents to be able to mine, Future of the Left carry on the Mclusky legacy of cruiseship-sized guitars playing furious, melodic punk while Andy Falkous bemoans and/or satirises a wide variety topics. Like what? Well, “if we arm Eritrea, then we wouldn’t have to pay her, and everyone can go home”, on the geopolitical protest level. Or, on a more zoomed-in scale, “hidden in the mess of letters lies the awful truth, that Emma’s mom and dad use plastic forks”. A pressure-cooker of self-aware ire at the state of the species.

I’ve never seen these live but it seems like a great idea. Also, when they say “Hi, we’re Snow Patrol”, that’s not pre-planned.

The Year. 20-16.

20. Port O’Brien – All We Could Do Was Sing
City Slang

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
Moshi Moshi

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.

In The Morning All I Could Do Was Sing

Duty called me to Tripod on Tuesday. Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, Sons and Daughters and Port O’Brien.

There was a time when I would have paid to see Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, but that time is not now. And I have no love for Sons and Daughters. So the only band I was interested in seeing was Port O’Brien. Which was convenient, because they were the ones I was interviewing.

It was only a short, first-of-three opening set in a Tripod that went from empty to half-full as it progressed. Not really the kind of thing that can give a true impression of a band, especially one like Port O’Brien who are quiet twice as often as they’re loud and play a lot of soul-searching songs about the sea. It was good to see though.

The difference between Port O’Brien and every band that sails the ocean deep in their imagination is this: salmon fishing. Van Pierszalowski, who is the main singer and songwriter, is the son of a commercial salmon fisherman, and Van spends summers in Alaska with him. Being a skiff-man, whatever that is. Cambria Goodwin, who plays banjo (inaudible at Tripod but essential to the sound on record) and also sings, is a baker at a salmon cannery. When Port O’Brien write songs with nautical metaphors… they’re not metaphors. Well, they are. But it’s a level closer. It’s like the difference between a Hollywood actor doing an Irish accent, and an actual Irish accent, sort of.

Relating to the gig specifically, I’ll just say that even though the other three people in the band (Josh, Zebedee and Caleb) were straight out of Vetiver/a Californian medicinal marijuana supplier’s in appearance (flares and beards, basically), there is a distinctive Arcade Fire vibe about their live show. Part of it’s the chemistry between Van and Cambria. Part of it’s the energy of certain songs of theirs, not as developed as Arcade Fire’s by a long shot, but showing signs. I don’t know what the rest of it is, it’s just an instinctive thing on my part.

The gig didn’t do them justice, because they were cut short and the circumstances weren’t right. But if you follow up on one thing I say on this blog, make it this: click the Muxtape link on the sidebar, and listen to I Woke Up Today.