subota, 9. veljače 2013.

Port St. Willow - Holiday (2012)

Glazbena melodramatična instalacija koja u praznini sunčeva sustava, negdje oko Jupitera, uprizoruje tužan zimski dan na Zemlji, negdje u Oregonu. Klasična definicija ljepote.

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"Sometimes the veil of ‘music journalism’ slips from my forgetful head and I simply indulge in a record," Tom Johnson writes in his review of Holiday, "forgetting to share it with anything but the walls of my room and the insides of my ears". If this is another example for why Holiday is one of the best-kept secrets of 2012, I somehow feel less guilty for pulling the exact same example, cause indeed, the debut LP of Nick Principe's solo project Port St. Willow alters a substantial feeling of sacristy, just as if the record is unable to reveal its magic to more than one pair of ears. Then again, Holiday rarely comes out as selfish, but rather firmly compassionate as it enlightens us to the broken limbs of a personal tragedy, asking to be approached it in its chronological order. If you haven't already guessed, this is another difficult thing to ask for in a year in constant motion.
Looking back at 2009 and The Antlers' excellent Hospice, few are surprised to learn that Principe and Peter Silberman have been friends and recording buddies since long before then, and somehow obvious, Port St. Willow shares many ideas with his soulful friend. But where Hospice lays bricks over its tragedy with uncomfortable noise, Holiday replies in utter silence, unwillingly building fences between inner emotions and the real, breathing world. Perhaps it is time to change that.
Tonje Thilesen
Nick Principe, the sole proprietor of Port St. Willow, has made a record of falsetto-heavy, atmospheric mope-rock played at lugubrious tempos. He insists that it should be be listened to as a whole. This is not the sort of thing that gets you noticed in 2012. But while his debut LP Holiday lacks cultural cachet or wow factor, there's another kind of immediacy here if you're wired a certain way. This kind of spare urban brooding is often the result of some serious heartbreak, making you want to really listen for the lyrics. Whether Principe has endured the kind of personal tragedy that sometimes makes its way into press kits is ultimately irrelevant. This record is intensely absorbing based solely on what it's willing to explicitly share.
If it sounds like I'm describing a scenario simlar to the one that greeted the Antlers' Hospice back in 2009, it's for good reason. Principe is a collaborator and childhood friend of Antlers frontman Pete Silberman, and from that you could fashion a reasonable Okkervil River/Shearwater relationship dynamic. They share musical ideas, but the Antlers are more typical of a rock band that prefers demonstrative, emotional storytelling and skyscraping choruses, while Port St. Willow are more attuned to impressionism and studied musicianship.  Holiday can fool you into thinking Principe isn't alone; it's a rich and lush record where most of the textures could still be conceivably looped and performed by one guy. There are unorthodox, yet hooky percussive patterns that almost wholly forgo kicks, snare hits and hi-hats, washes of soft, harmonic feedback, silvery filigrees of guitar.
Most of the songs on Holiday glide past five minutes, but there's a lightness and subtle evolution to Principe's arrangements that make Holiday a surprisingly brisk listen. What it lacks in traditional hooks, it compensates for with distinct and weighty gestures. The sophisticated melody contained with the guitar chords of "Amawalk" is power-pop turned slower-than-slowcore, leading up to a brass funeral march. An overdub of militaristic drum rolls pushes the already tense "Hollow" to the Holiday's earliest hints at catharsis, while the moaning peals of Principe's vocals on "Orphan" imply the release might never come. Within the instrumental and textural cohesion, reverb often determines mood, and it's rare to hear it as carefully and purposefully utilized as it is here. Just listen to how the mix dries up after the beatific "On Your Side" and allows for the dour drone of "Corners" to sound truly lonely.
There's little sweet or airy about Principe's falsetto, and his lyrics are akin to his arrangements, conceptually heavy but rendered with a gentle touch. It's sometimes difficult to know exactly what he's getting at. Family relationships (birth, orphanage, fatherhood) are encoded within the terse nature of his lyrics ("slow your breathing," "I won't be a father in a family that runs deep," "don't push me off the ledge you've grown to love"), suggesting conversations between isolated people. The words are evocative rather than exploitative, hinting at trauma having been processed and all that's left is a deep, muscular ache.
Holiday is so clearly intended as a single piece that I hesitate to suggest it's missing something, but I do find myself wishing for Principe to go all-in either lyrically or sonically. On a record like Hospice, the extroverted likes of "Sylvia" or "Bear" provided easy entry points, giving an indication that it was a deeply personal record meant to be related to on a mass scale. Holiday's goals might be different; it's by no means self-indulgent or abrasive or impenetrable, but I hear a record that Principe needed to make whether or not he sought an audience. That said, Holiday deserves an audience, and it'll be interesting to see how Principe reacts to knowing someone's listening in.- Ian Cohen

I’ve been selfish. Sorry. Sometimes the veil of ‘music journalist’ slips from my forgetful head and I simply indulge in a record, forgetting to share it with anything but the walls of my room and the insides of my ears. Such was the case with Holiday, the debut LP from Port St. Willow; a collective name for the musical meanderings of Brooklyn’s Nick Principe. Released back in May, the stark and expansive record initially grabbed me with dizzying aptitude before suddenly burrowing away back in to the shadows, seemingly waiting for the right time of year to rear its head again. This may read like
melodramatic nonsensefanciful prose, but the Summer really wasn’t the right surroundings for an album that so richly and beautifully conveys the sounds and feelings that arise from the insular, darkening evenings and melancholy-drenched landscapes that have slowly and assuredly crept up on us over the past few weeks.
Like menial chit-chat before the delivering of some devastating news, the murky instrumental opener of Two Five Two Five gently eases us into Holiday; the track acting like a title-sequence introduction to the rest of the LP, as if what follows is too excessive to simply jump straight in to.
The first glimpse of the records true intentions arrives with Hollow; Principe’s radiant and piercing vocal rising from the gloom like a sudden burst of sunshine on an otherwise dull day. The pureness of the vocal tricks us, however; the beauty of its offering a distraction from the outpouring of afflictions that the rest of the record so tensely and forthrightly confronts.
This time last year we put together an article that featured a host of artists telling us about their favourite autumn records, the majority of which focused on the whimsical poetic happenings these months produce; the magic of the changing colour of the leaves, the fresh and familiar smell in the air. While Holiday does reflect the shift in perspective and surroundings of the current seasonal climate, it is not for any of the reasons mentioned above. The autumnal sketches created within the record exemplify the desolate and dour feelings that are heightened by the arrival of the years parting months. Of blanketed overcast skies and dreary, drawn-out days. The glacial musical backdrops don’t provide the warm glow so often associated with this time of year, instead, they embody the duller tones of autumn; the dead car headlights reflecting colourless rain-spattered pavements, the strong winds ripping through bare branches and the endless grey days that crawl by monochromatically, as if the Sun itself can’t even keep up the pretense of offering anything approaching the radiance we, at the very least, expect from it.
Due to the falsetto croon that Principe possesses, comparisons will inevitably be drawn with Justin Vernon but there is an occasional playfulness to his tone that also recalls the R&B influence of How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell. Neither of these marker points gets anywhere close, however, to articulating just how jaw-dropping the vocals are. In-fact if we’re looking for reference points, then it’s probably Thom Yorke’s  feral cry that the operatic dramas most closely resemble. Much like Yorke’s unhinged articulations, we don’t need context or even lyrics to know that the expressed sentiments are anything but unrelentingly austere.
While sounding somewhat clichéd, it’s genuinely difficult to highlight stand-out moments. A number of the tracks bleed into one another, while many of the songs crawl past the six and seven minute mark, creating an album that plays out more like a finely-structured film soundtrack. At times, minutes tick by with only slight deviations from the prevailing sound; haunting melodies and sentiments creep in and then slowly disappear again leading the entire thing to simply engulf you.
It never gets too much, however, thanks mainly to the slight but essential fluctuations that provide steadying moments of relief; the restrained and elegant brass that runs alongside North, the rhythmic percussion that drives the hypnotic Orphan through seven delirious minutes and the Grizzly Bear-esque swell of The Tourist. I also feel unable to publish this review without mentioning the albums closing track, Consumed. Building slowly, the records most rewarding instrumentation provides the foundations upon which Principe finally let’s go and allows the music to simple unravel. After fifty-five minutes of stifling atmosphere, it feels like genuine release. It’s one of those songs that reminds us that music, though instigated by facts and figures and skin and bone, can still produce moments of awe-inspiring magic.
With Holiday, Port St Willow has crafted a record that transcends casual listening. It’s both a glimpse into the heart of its creator and a candid portrayal of what it means to genuinely move and be moved. Mesmerising in its scope and harrowing in its delivery, Holiday is a record that takes the more somber elements of the human psyche and turns them into something both wholly accessible and profoundly affecting. - Tom Johnson

Port St. Willow’s first full-length album entitled “Holiday” has left me speechless for several days. I have had this 55-minute ambient/folk picturesque artwork on repeat, and don’t tend on changing that anytime soon. This album in three words. Tyrant. Smoke. Motion.
I would describe Nick Principe’s project Port St. Willow to our readers unfamiliar with his work as the boiling narrative of Youth Lagoon’s Year of Hibernation sung with beautiful vocals similar to Peter Silberman of the Antlers, mixed with the atmosphere of a Grouper album.
I would listen to this album from beginning to end for the full effect, but the first track that stood out to me was “Tourist”, a song that sounds like a chase between a beast and prey. On second listen my favorite track was "Orphan" for the powerful vocals. There are some slower more peaceful tracks such as "North" that build into the more powerful, and that is why I suggest you listen to the album from front to back. I was impressed with the horn and trumpet use, especially in "North", without being too overbearing to the overall track. As of now my favorite track is the "Consumed", lyrics from Consumed overflow with meaning, and will shake you down to your bones in the most personal way. The pulsating drums coexist with a glass melody in an very well written conclusion.
Holiday could very easily (and very unfairly) slip under the radar in 2012 with so many great albums being released every month, but it is clear that Nick Principe is pushing Musical (uppercase m) boundaries forward within his own construct, and deserves some recognition for one of the greatest pieces of gut-wrenchingly passionate artwork ever created.

I have yet to see a review for Port St. Willow's Holiday that hasn't used The Antlers' Hospice as a reference point when describing the overall sound of the album. This review will be no different, but there are a few reasons it's an apt comparison. First of all, Holiday is the creation of one man--Nick Principe--who also happens to share an eerily similar falsetto register with Peter Silberman. On top of that, Silberman and Principe are childhood friends who have collaborated on music in the past. But above all of that, even before I had seen a single review for the album, it struck me how sonically similar the albums are the first time I heard it.
It starts right from the beginning of the album, with the distorted opener "Two Five Five Two", which melts right into the following track, "Hollow"--similar to how "Prologue" merges into "Kettering". A low drone opens "Hollow", which begins to fill with the sound of drums that seem to be coming from some far off place, before finally giving way to Prinicpe's voice shortly after. It's at that moment that making a Hospice connection is unavoidable. However, I should also add that simply making that single comparison isn't fair to Princpe, who fleshes out his songs with an ambiance comparable Grouper, while still bringing something unique and wholly his own to the album. The best example of this is the album standout "Amawalk", which shows just what an effective weapon his voice is in its own right, while combining his ambient soundscapes with his skill at instrumentation, even bringing horns into the closing section of the track.
It feels weird to call a song a standout track on an album that's meant to be listened to as a whole instead of separate parts, as Holiday is obviously meant to be. Each track morphs directly into the next, almost all of them beginning and ending with the same distorted hiss, one that helps tie the entire album together. Yet at no point does it ever feel like you're listening to the same song for an hour, as albums like this can tend to do. And it is possible to point to standout tracks, even if it doesn't have anything as drastically different or radio-ready as "Bear" or "Two". "Orphan" starts with a drumbeat that moves like a funeral procession, adding an echo-effect to Principe's voice that gives it an otherworldly quality, eventually building into something bigger before quieting down as it closes out. "North" employs the horns once again, although much more subdued than on "Amawalk". "On Your Side", while mainly relying on a slow organ that holds the same note throughout, is perfectly accompanied by Principe's voice.
Understand that when I make comparisons to Hospice, I mean that as a high compliment, as it's one of my favorite albums of the last decade. But one last difference between the two is that Holiday doesn't tell a story, and it isn't a concept album. Lyrically, the songs often deal with heartbreak and loss, while keeping things oblique enough to keep you wondering what exactly inspired the album. It's not something meant to be put on for background noise, it's an album that demands full attention. It's should also preferably be listened to through a pair of headphones, as you try to figure out what exactly the lyrics are trying to say while admiring the beauty of the sounds that give them added weight. And most of all, it's an album that gives a lot of hope for what Principe is capable of in the future. - PorkchopExpress
The serene symmetry of Holiday’s artwork accurately captures the atmosphere that Port St. Willow attempt to cultivate on their debut record. It’s awash with ambient textures, steeped in a glistening beauty that mirrors the elegance of Nick Principe’s voice. His lyrics are affecting, eye-level portraits depicting love, loss and familial strain, and they are constantly fraught with feelings of loneliness. Holiday is solitary, isolated like the image of the island that accompanies it. Notwithstanding a certain monotone beauty, there isn’t a lot to smile about here, though sunlight gleams through the fog on occasion.
Holiday makes very effective use of space; each song is an interlude unto itself, transitioning into the next in a way feels natural and justified. There aren’t many surprises on this album, neither are there any glaring faults. Everything is settled, locked in, fine-tuned for a specific function. On “Amawalk”, Principe’s falsetto scrapes the sky as he wails out over gently rolling drums and somber horns. If it reminds you of the Antlers, there’s a good reason for that: Nick Principe and Peter Silberman are childhood friends. Port St. Willow never crosses over into this territory entirely, but it’s an obvious influence throughout. Ethereal acts like Cocteau Twins and Slowdive have also left their marks.
With the exception of the trumpet and French horn, Port St. Willow is entirely Principe at work, and his talent as a drummer is not to be overlooked. “Tourist” is perhaps the best example of this, in which he makes use of every part of his kit to generate a heavily involving beat, while the squall really forces you to listen hard for the redolent lyrics: “Slow down/The roots are showing/And you’re no orphan.”
If you’re partial to the aura that Holiday is continuously emanating, then you may also be willing to overlook the fact that a few tracks blend into one another a little bit too well. “On Your Side” and “Orphan” use almost identical timbres, and it’s noticeable upon the first listen. This isn’t to say that either track isn’t enjoyable, the record’s sense of continuity and overarching premise do much to ameliorate this fact. Yet you may be left wondering if there are too few ideas on Holiday to be adequately spread across 55 minutes.
It becomes clear that Principe is very involved in these songs. When he howls out on “Five Five Two Five”, it sounds like he’s on the verge of tears. “Put the Armor on the Mantle” is exactly as it sounds, commencing with a minute of silence before a resigned melody creeps into the darkened landscape, alone and without contrast. Principe’s immediate environment has nothing to offer him as consolation, hope is the only positive. Closing number “Consumed” brings a little more to the table, pairing skittering cymbals and rim shots with lovely, coiling guitars and supple keyboards. For an album that seems to almost enjoy getting down on itself, it’s a surprisingly optimistic conclusion.
Principe is the beating heart at the center of this project. His quintessence can be found within these songs, each a cryptic puzzle just waiting to be dissected. There’s the sense that he’s holding himself back a little, either scared to allow his music to become an entirely personal vehicle, or lacking the confidence to expand into other frontiers. There’s plenty of time for growth, though. More variety would help his cause, but Holiday is a graceful, emotionally affluent debut. -

Nick Principe's debut as Port St. Willow may be one of the more overlooked albums to surface this year: This is a shame, because Holiday is deserving of more attention than it's likely to receive. It isn't that the album is a revelation or particularly boundary pushing, but it's a compelling collection of songs worth exploring. One reason for albums such as this flying beneath the radar in 2012 is their lack of conventional immediacy: In the post-digital realm of music, it's become commonplace for entire albums to be dissected for their easiest entry points with the surrounding material treated as passable filler at best.
Holiday isn't designed as a typical rock album either—you won't find any songs holding to verse-chorus-verse structures, there are no anthemic hooks to gleefully punch the air to, and no colossal displays of emotional fireworks to underscore pivotal moments of your life. There's a sense of restraint in both the mournful tempos and the fragile vocals on Holiday that feels nearly suffocating at times, but it serves as a catalyst for the sense of personal tragedy that permeates the record.

Since its release, Holiday has drawn numerous comparisons to the music of the Antlers, which is fitting to an extent—both Principe and Antlers frontman Peter Silberman (childhood friends and collaborators) create songs full of emotionally bruising lyrics and equally charging music. But where the Antlers write emotionally cohesive narratives within the structured parameters of rock, Port St. Willow offers impressionistic, subconscious confessions surrounded by music that's just as suggestive as it is difficult to pin down.
On 'Amawalk' Principe declares “I will be set free” repeatedly throughout the song while never fully elaborating on what exactly he's pulling away from. There's a sense of tired resolution in that sentiment, as if he's giving into the only logical conclusion he never wanted to arrive at in the first place—and his tone, which is fatigued and defeated, suggests he's doing little to convince himself or us that doing what is right is going to make much difference in the end.
Holiday is littered with these kinds personal lines (“Donʼt push me, from the ledge youʼve learned to love”, “I'm patient/Between two lives”, “I don't want to be a father in a family that runs deep”) that never fully reveal their points of origin—you almost get the impression they're part of an inner dialogue welling to the surface, are part of a conversation taking place between two people behind a barely cracked door, or could even be lifted from pages torn out of Principe's personal journal—things that may not be entirely meant for us, but needed purging regardless. This is another point of separation between Principe's and Silberman's music: Whereas 2009's Hospice offered a number of instantly gratifying songs ('Bear', 'Two', 'Sylvia') whose sweeping arrangements, bursting choruses and bold emotional strokes served as easy entry points into its occasionally difficult to follow narrative, nothing on Holiday comes off as immediately arresting.
Principe's music occupies a more subtle space—his haunting arrangements feel sparse, but they're fleshed out by surprisingly layered sonic textures. 'Amawalk' progresses at a lugubrious tempo from a skeletal back-beat and dreamy patches of synthesizers and guitars to a full-blown militant march and a soaring cluster of brass coupled with Principe's eerie falsetto. It never reaches the emotional climax we've come to expect from these kinds of build-ups, and instead it dissipates quietly, drifting into the next song.

On 'Tourist', synthesizers and guitars coalesce to create a particularly heartbreaking tone that suggests Principe is sometimes better at expressing the sense of grief he's grappling with through music rather than with words themselves; an air disappointment lingers over 'Hollow' like a recently departed spirit with its dreamy guitars and static synthesizers suggesting a sleep deprived night full of painful introspection.
There's no real sense of release and relief coming from any of the songs on Holiday, and it's tempting to wonder if Principe is hesitant to push himself to the necessary limits to break free, or if he's bottled everything up for so long that he simply doesn't know how to. 'Orphan' seems to addresses those questions for us: over another metronomic militant march and swirling synthesizers, Principe's anguished cries make it painfully clear that any kind of emotional meltdown and the relief that follows will likely never happen. His insistence that Holiday be listened to as a whole may seem slightly novel at first, but it's a request that makes more sense once you've allowed yourself the time to be fully immersed in the music, and with each listen, Holiday rewards your patience richly.-

Jeremy Daniel


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