Monday, September 17, 2007
Port O'Brien 7.5 Review Posted On Pitchfork Today.
The Wind and the Swell
[American Dust; 2007]
From the Decemberists' belly-of-the-whale epics to Modest Mouse's existential oceans, from Alela Diane's yo-ho-ho choruses to Oh No! Oh My!'s pirate anthem, nautical themes have become so prevalent in current indie mythology that it's enough to make you seasick. But Port O'Brien has earned the right to the salt-crusted imagery adorning its first full-length, The Wind and the Swell, as well as to the numerous mentions of seas and oceans and fishing boats and puffins in these jagged, intelligent indie-folk songs. Port O'Brien mainstay Van Pierszalowski, a California native and son of a commercial fisherman, spends his summers aboard an Alaskan salmon schooner, either fighting the seas or bored in port if the weather's bad. He named the band after an Alaskan port, uses photos of his father's crew as album art, and keeps a detailed ship's blog on the group's web site.
But The Wind and the Swell, which collects the group's first two out-of-print releases on one disc, sounds like a much better journal of days at sea. Like most tracks, opener "I Woke Up Today" could be a sea-legs lament: "Yes I understand I cannot live on this land," Pierszalowski sings, "but does that truly mean I have seen all that can be seen?" The song is all windworn surfaces: the guitars sound rough and creaky, the voices cracked but resolute. These same lyrics repeat on the sparse closer "Simple Way", which slows the tempo and pares down the music: instead of a stormy passage, the song fades gradually, like land disappearing on the horizon.
Port O'Brien's first LP, When the Rain Comes, from 2005, was a set of mostly acoustic songs featuring Pierszalowski on acoustic guitar, reflecting the outfit's more-or-less solo origins. The recording is blunt and primitive, perfect for Pierszalowski's then-unrefined songwriting. "Five and Dime", his wordiest composition, reckons with his own wanderlust: "It kills me to think that straight lines have taken over the life I've led," he sings as the song veers suddenly into a relentless road-trip strum. The band's 2006 EP Nowhere to Run keeps the rough aesthetic and unflinching self-examination in place, but elaborates on them in intriguing musical ways: adding new sounds and more instruments, honing the lyrics to be more teasingly indirect, and benefiting greatly from the presence of Cambria Goodwin, whose sharp vocals and percussive banjo color "I Woke Up Today" and her own "Tree Bones".
On The Wind and the Swell, instead of presenting each release in its original tracklist order, as if they're two sides of the same album, Pierszalowski resequences the songs to highlight the contrasts between the two sets. This tack, despite its minor limitations (gone are the scraps of stray song interspersed between the "real" tracks from Nowhere to Run), distracts from the weaknesses of early tracks and emphasizes the seaworthiness of later songs like "Tree Bones" and "A Bird Flies By". In the process, The Wind and the Swell builds and fades, suggesting a landlocked anomie that only the ocean can assuage: "And I just wanna be floating on the sea," Pierszalowski sings on "Anchor", "with my anchor tied to land." The product of days and days at sea, The Wind and the Swell retains the songs' original documentary impact, even as it shows that Pierszalowski's music is less about seafaring summers than simple remoteness, both geographical and emotional.
-Stephen M. Deusner, September 17, 2007
Check out these upcoming Port O'Brien live dates:
09/23 Eugene, OR @ McDonald Theatre (w/Bright Eyes)
09/24 Chico, CA @ Senator Theatre (w/Bright Eyes)
09/26 Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy
10/10 San Diego, CA @ Casbah (w/Rogue Wave)
10/11 Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey (w/Rogue Wave)
10/12 San Francisco, CA @ Bimbos 365 (w/Rogue Wave)
10/15 Portland, OR @ Wonderland Ballroom (w/Rogue Wave)
10/16 Seattle, WA @ Nuemos (w/Rogue Wave)
10/19 Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theatre (w/Rogue Wave)
10/20 Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck (w/Rogue Wave)
10/21 Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room (w/Rogue Wave)
10/23 Minneapolis, MN @ 400 Bar (w/Rogue Wave)
10/24 Chicago, IL @ Double Door (w/Rogue Wave)
10/26 Toronto, ON @ Mod Club (w/Rogue Wave)
10/27 Montreal, QC @ Cabaret Music Club (w/Rogue Wave)
10/29 Northampton, MA @ Iron Horse Music Hall (w/Rogue Wave)
10/30 Boston, MA @ The Paradise (w/Rogue Wave)
Sweet footage of 'My Eyes Won't Shut'