Album Reviews

Port O’Brien – All We Could Do Was Sing

(City Slang) UK release date: 4 August 2008

The recent upturn in the fortunes of the Britishweather make this the perfect time for Port O’Brien tolap gently in on the evening tide with a collection ofsummery acoustic folk tunes you won’t be able to helpbut fall in love with.

All We Could Do Was Sing is the second offeringfrom the Oakland duo of Van Pierszalowski and CambriaGoodwin, and follows on from 2007’s collection ofself-recorded early songs The Wind And The Swell,which gathered enough critical acclaim to keep them inthe neon glare of the muso headlights.

From the delicate fragility of Stuck On A Boat orValdez, to the psychedelic dreams of Fisherman’s Sonand Alive For Nothing, these are sea shanties for themodern world, at times turbulent and dark, more oftenfoam-sprayed and uplifting. Drenched in guitarharmonies, they just prevent themselves from drowningin melody, nowhere more so than on the instrumentalRooftop Song.

Lauded by M Craft, tour buddies of BrightEyes and Modest Mouse, the nursery chordsof Don’t Take My Advice show you why their talent andtheir sensibilities appeal to so many. There areechoes of Conor Oberst’s depth throughout their lyricsand music, nurtured as beautifully as his songs sooften are – especially in the half-whispered Will YouBe There?

In some ways, once you get past the stompingfolk-punk opener Woke Up Today, Port O’Brien are agentler, quieter, Magic Numbers, stripped downand de-popped for a gentler crowd. Their music isinstantly accessible, in places perfectly catchy – MyEyes Won’t Shut, for example, which conjures upimagines of a Californian Kirsty MacColl, ifyou can entertain such a thing. It’s homespun withoutsounding homemade, the sound of peeling, salt stainedpicket fences and neat lawns that look out to sea anddream of romance.

And then Port O’Brien will throw you for a loop.Just as you think you’ve got them pegged, out comes InVino Veritas, lodged somewhere between a paranoidradio transmission and Victorian music hall, entirelydifferent from its predecessors but none the worse forit. This itself morphs into the shouty, more furiousClose The Lid, a raw and once again different side totheir sound.

You could feel you’re being cheated by learningthat they have no plans to tour the UK in the nearfuture, but somehow this seems only fitting. There’s adistance to their music, as if they’re floating awayon the horizon, just out of reach. It’s worthsavouring them that way.

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Port O’Brien – All We Could Do Was Sing