Album Review // Port St Willow ~ Holiday

October 23rd, 2012 by TJ

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 nonsense fanciful 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.

Words by Tom Johnson

Stream Holiday in full, and purchase a physical copy here.

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