port o'brien threadbare
  • WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 07, 2009

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Misty and downtrodden are some words to describe the seafaring Port O'Brien, who find no shelter from stormy seas on their third LP, Threadbare. Frontman Van Pierszalowski is a master of perturbed isolation and loneliness in his songs, and here he keeps to the traditions of previous recordings, perhaps retroactively so. This is a band that specializes in a creating a specific environment with their shanties, (I like to call it 'optimistic misery'), and this record succeeds in creating a more ambivalent flux of emotion.

"Sour Milk/Salt Water" hit the wires a few months ago and it suggested that the sound of the band would remain mostly in tact from 2008's All We Could Do Was Sing. The track, while maintaining the balance of acoustic guitar and Van-driven wailing, seems to lean towards pleasantry more than bleakness, even mirroring the rhythmic lyricism of "We Didn't Start The Fire" (albeit a darker, more brooding version of the lyrics). One of the things that was so lovable about Sing was the bouncy first track, a repeat offender on Port O'Brien's releases, but also a staple of their popularity. However, "My Will Is Good" was next to surface, and it did not fit this mode at all. And after hearing the entire album, it seems much more in sync with the overall tone of Threadbare. "Will" is a meditative number, with an almost tribal feel, more along the lines of melancholic, introspective isolation, a definite departure from previous albums, and not necessarily a bad one.

"High Without The Hope 3" seemed to confirm this formula as a blueprint for the album, which chugs along many tracks of reflection, almost always in a haze. One thing "High" also establishes is the increased presence of Cambria (fellow band member and Van's girlfriend) as a vocalist. She sings the entirety of the first track and returns to front title track "Threadbare." Cambria's voice is more somber and subdued than Van's sometimes edgy, irate caterwaul, and fitting for a third album that occasionally feels deflated ("dark will always come"). Not that defeat isn't necessary interesting to observe; quite the contrary, Threadbare seems to tip-toe the line of hopelessness with bewitching results. Often the tracks feel like they are marching somewhere, and although they never seem to get there, they keep on walking with determination. Another pivotal track, "(((Darkness Visible)))," draws attention to itself not only with it's parenthetical title, but it's ghost-town piano-in-a-tin-room accompaniment and sobering procession. Not surprisingly, Cambria emerges again as the sole vocalist on the track.

By the end of Threadbare, we're neither here nor there. The songs turn out to be just another journey through the ears of Van, into his mind. Some might call his true nature cold folk, others nautical balladry, but by now his Alaskan roots are old hat in explaining the unique sound of Port O'Brien. I think the most important thing to take away is that the true voice of the record is Cambria's voice, presumably because it has always been the most important voice in Van's head.-joe puglisi

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