All We Could Do Was Sing
Van Pierszalowski, the front man for this Californian band, spends 3 months of the year on a salmon trawler on Kodiak Island, Alaska which goes some way to explain the great seafaring influence that dominates their sound - and like the sonic waves that wash over every moment of this record, Port O'Brien find themselves on distant and far richer shores than were explored on their debut.
2007's The Wind And The Swell was less of a debut and more of a compilation of the best of their self-released efforts, but it was very much a stripped down folk affair comprising of mainly guitar and vocals and tinny lo-fi drumming. It's very much a different story here with All We Could Do Was Sing, which curiously kicks off the same way their previous album did - with the frenzied group sing-along of I Woke Up Today. It's given a major overhaul this year but does slightly mislead the listener as to the general direction of this record. Stuck On A Boat is way more representative with its deep guitars and hollow vocals. It's a simple song vividly placing Pierszalowski on his Dad's trawler, it takes its time with the basic rhythmic structure but its glorious swathes of pastoral strings instantly hail the arrival of a whole new band. Fisherman's Son sees our protagonist leave his coastal roots and up and move to the city. Great waves of drums pick this song up and launch it into a vibrant gallop accompanied again by the string section.
Port O'Brien have developed many strings to their bow and this record is full of ideas that span more tempos than their debut hinted at. Songs like Pigeonhold show the band baring its teeth with crashing cymbals and truncated guitar solos that squeal and wine, until the strained vocals bring the whole thing to a calamitous close. This electric injection raises this band from the alt-folk wilderness that they threatened to reside in. The penultimate Close The Lid sees them perfect this element of their sound with a textbook indie jangle that lets rip into a joyous ramshackle of drums and raw vocals. Then as a total antithesis comes the frail closing sound of Valdez. More in line with the earlier songs this finishes the album with melancholic fragility and is the sonic opposite of how the record began. These polar bookends that contain this record illustrate perfectly the rich tapestry that Port O'Brien has woven. They may not be reinventing anything here, but as an example of a rock group that strives to evolve their sound, Port O'Brien's journey from lo-fi folk to indie rock confidence has resulted in a full bodied and endlessly listenable album.
28th Jul 2008 - Tumblr3.5
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