Sunday, 24 August 2008

Port O Brien- 'All We Could Do Was Sing' (City Slang)

The rural pursuits are currently getting a good hearing in indie music. First we had the log cabin hermitage of Bon Iver & the distinctly agrarian feel of Fleet Foxes, and now we have the fisherman antics of Port O'Brien, featuring Alaskan salmon snaffler Van Pierszalowski and friends. What's next? Farmers making breakbeat? A jazz quintet of shepherds? No answers this end, but at least it's getting quieter in the city.

The album starts with a strong contender for album opener of the year, the relentlessly perky 'I Woke Up Today'. Guitars roll along, channeling other young upstarts of the summer Born Ruffians, vocals chanted like mantras.

Following the upbeat intro, things take on a downbeat hue on the next few songs. The nautical elements of the band's origins are brought out on 'Stuck On A Boat', which wins today's 'Ronseal award' for song topic displayed in title, although it is closely run with 'Fisherman's Son', where Van declares he's “doing fine in Alaska”. The ideas of following your family trade that feature in the song take on a sad hue, with the lyrics suggesting a desire for escape, but a hatred of the city. As he declares, “I can never win”.

The more the album plays on, the more the sombre songs take over. 'Don't Take My Advice' carries on the restlessness that inflicts Van, declaring he's “not ready to settle down”. Escape from fishing, escape from the city, the touring life of a rock n roll band seems perfect.

'Alive For Nothing' continues the despair, haunted dreams and depressed minds over cellos and strums. Seratonin seems to be popped for 'Eyes Won't Shut' with chiming acoustic guitars and handclaps , but it's deceptive, with lyrics focusing on relaxing, Van finally settling to “waste this lazy afternoon”.

Then, suddenly, things get stormy. A squall of guitars thrash over the end of 'Pigeonhold', the quiet revelry of the first half of the album replaced with noise and rock. It's out of context like a polar bear in Woolworths buying pick 'n mix, but it makes a brilliant sea change. (Did you see what I did there?)

'The Rooftop Song' has a whirling country strut, before again throwing in duelling guitars before a slow calm fade out, that leads well in to the country vibes of 'In Vino Veritas', a slow burning beauty,

Put me on a boat and cut the line”, Van declares at the beginning of 'Close The Lid' as the song crescendos outwards, instruments added into the sonic blender one by one. The album fades out with the lo fi crackle of 'Valdez', leaving us with a wonderfully understated album that leaves you with a salty tear in your eye at its folky wonder.

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