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Port O'Brien - All We Could Do Was Sing

Port O'Brien, All We Could Do Was Sing

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IT’S always nice to get a musical surprise – something that breaks the mould by being different.

Port O’Brien, the latest act to emerge from California, are five musicians who make music almost in their spare time.

That is to say that lead singer and guitarist Van Pierszalowski spends his summers working on his father’s salmon fishing boat off Alaska’s Kodiak Island, while bassist Caleb Nichols works at the local canning factory and co-vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Cambria Goodwin (who plays banjo and mandolin) is a baker in Larsen Bay.

Hence, anyone expecting the sun-soaked harmonies of the Beach Boys, or The OC friendly California pop of Nada Surf and company (still excellent in itself, mind) will be in for a big surprise. Port O’Brien’s music is more ethereal in focus, and hence more reminiscent of artists such as Arcade Fire or Sigur Ros.

That’s not to say there’s not the odd moment of ray-making – My Eyes Won’t Shut is a cracking pop effort built around hand-clap beats and upbeat folksy guitar licks. The lyricism, too, is great, featuring lines such as “well I was born to be a clown but my girl she says I need to turn it down, right now”.

Former single and album opener I Woke Up Today starts with a foot-stomping drum beat (reminiscent of I Am The Resurrection-era Stone Roses) before coming over all folk-rock and dropping some ethereal vocals to really lay down an impressive marker for what’s to come.

And evidence of their “daytime” jobs is also abundantly clear on the intimate Stuck On A Boat, a lowkey lament about a career that doesn’t always make sense to its lead singer.

Fisherman’s Son maintains that air of ambiguity, proclaiming “I’m doing fine in Alaska” before adding “I don’t know why I came here, was it because I was born this way”. It’s a fascinating insight into Pierszalowski’s mind and alternative lifestyle – the hedonistic excess of rock ‘n’ roll has seldom seemed so far away.

The borderline depression rears its head again on the provocative slow-burner Alive For Nothing but is kept at bay with more straight-forward crowd-pleasers such as Pigeonhold, where the guitars are kick-ass rocky and Pierszalowski’s vocals are nicely raw and ragged.

We dug the tender acoustics of Will You Be There? and the warmth of songs like The Roof Top Song and In Vino Veritas too.

In fact, we reckon Port O’Brien have come up with a pretty special album. Yes, it’s different from what you might have been expecting from a Californian five-piece but that only make All We Could Do Was Sing more striking.

Download picks: I Woke Up Today, Fisherman’s Son, My Eye Won’t Shut, Pigeonhold, In Vino Veritas, Close The Lid

Track listing:

  1. I Woke Up Today
  2. Stuck On A Boat
  3. Fisherman’s Son
  4. Don’t Take My Advice
  5. Alive For Nothing
  6. My Eyes Won’t Shut
  7. Pigeonhold
  8. Will You Be There
  9. Roof Top Song
  10. In Vino Veritas
  11. Close The Lid
  12. Valdez
  13. Untitled