Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Port O'Brien: Threadbare

We have to admit, we were a little worried. What with the media hype behind "I Woke Up Today" and the band's increasingly raucous live shows, Port O'Brien seemed headed straight for a record that would be their most conventional yet. While there's no question that the band can rock, we have to admit that it's not their strongest suit. Granted, its fun, but this is a band who made their name through subtlety. Songwriting, arrangements, and atmosphere are all elements that contributed to Port O'Brien's distinctive sound. That being so, the idea of a "rock" record left us a little bit cold. Luckily, our presumptions could not have been more wrong.

Threadbare takes everything that we dig about Port O'Brien and takes it to the next level. It's all there: the songwriting, the arrangements, the subtle production tweaks. It's even more impressive to take such subtlety and manage to wrap it in a way that still draws the listener in. Often, dreamy or subtle arrangements sacrifice accessibility or relistenability in favor of craft and art. Such is not the case with Threadbare: the band's ability to keep gentle arrangements moving forward and flowing makes the entire record an easy going, accessible listen.

Thankfully, many of the sonic elements that characterize Port O'Brien have been maintained: Cambria Goodwin and Van Pierszalowski continue to share vocal responsibilities, choral vocal sounds abound, and the instrumentation continues to be largely acoustic and percussive. It's particularly interesting to hear the band in this context after their live show has gradually become more and more electrified. Clearly they haven't lost track of their original aesthetic, but have managed to grow within it, and that's a very good thing.

The songwriting on Threadbare certainly deserves mention: the band manages to traverse the gamut from the catchy "My Will Is Good", to the lilting march of "In The Meantime". For the most part, the tunes follow the formula that Port O'Brien has become so skilled at: solid melodies backed by energetic percussion and ramshackle acoustic jams.

The record's most electric moment is the pairing of the killer "Calm Me Down" with the driving "Leap Year". We have to say: if this is the way the band is gradually going to bring their more electric elements into the recording process, then we heartily approve. The use of the electric guitars couldn't be better suited, and meshes in with the band's sound perfectly. In fact, the only weak point on the record is the tune "Sour Milk / Salt Water". While it's catchy, we just can't escape how much it shares its feel with Outkast's "Hey Ya". Sorry kids - it's just too close for comfort.

There were a lot of ways Port O'Brien could have gone with Threadbare: they have the media attention and growing fan base that in some ways begged them to release an easy rock record. Luckily, they ignored the easy road, and instead delivered a record that is a logical growth of the sound that they've been developing over the past few years. We couldn't be more excited with what we hear, and now there's just one more piece of the puzzle: we want to hear it live!

Threadbare drops today, Port O'Brien is on tour now.

mp3: Port O'Brien - Calm Me Down

Port O'Brien Fall 2009 Dates

Oct 13 Paradise Rock Club Boston, Massachusetts

Oct 14 Mercury Lounge New York, New York

Oct 15 Soundfix Records Instore Brooklyn, New York

Oct 16 Union Hall Brooklyn, New York

Oct 17 North Star Bar Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Oct 18 The Talking Head Club Baltimore, Maryland

Oct 19 DC9 Obama, Washington DC

Oct 21 Nightlight Bar and Club Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Oct 22 Pilot Light Knoxville, Tennessee

Oct 23 Criminal Records Instore Atlanta, Georgia

Oct 23 The Earl Atlanta, Georgia

Oct 24 Exit In Nashville, Tennessee

Oct 26 Rudyards Houston, Texas
Oct 27 The Cavern Dallas, Texas

Oct 28 Emo’s Jr Austin, Texas

Oct 30 Modified Arts Phoenix, Arizona

Nov 2 The Loft @ UCSD La Jolla, California

Nov 3 The Echo Los Angeles, California

Nov 4 Muddy Waters Santa Barbara, California

Nov 5 Bottom Of The Hill San Francisco, Ca, California

Nov 7 Folk Yeah Presents @ Brookdale Lodge Santa Cruz Mountains, California