[album review] port-royal: dying in time
October 31, 2010
Genoese post-everything group port-royal (like close to 94, resolutely lower case) have carved a useful shoegazey niche in electronic instrumental music. Over the course of their three full-length releases to date they have incrementally expanded this niche, from post-rock (2005’s wonderful Flares), through ambient glitch-pop (Afraid To Dance, 2007) to – on last year’s Dying In Time – ethereal dream house.
While every stage in port-royal’s evolution to date inhabits the same reverb-drenched soundworld, giving their output a satisfying coherence, which incarnation you’ll prefer depends on where your taste sits on the rock-pop-dance continuum. Dying In Time‘s staple ingredients – breathy vocals, cathedral sustained organs, shimmering synth washes, pulses and arpeggios usually draped over a four-on-the-floor kick/snare/hi-hat pattern – are combined and recombined across its eleven tracks with a focus on consistency. The album maintains a singular feel throughout and flows – in atmosphere, theme, instrumentation, even key – from one song to the next.
It is clearly designed to be consumed in one sitting, and undoubtedly works best that way (or as a live set; review here), to the extent that considering the songs individually weakens their effect somewhat, particularly in comparison to the more pronounced musicality of the group’s earlier work.
The stand-outs, therefore, are not those that reach higher or wider than the others. Instead, they plant their foundations more deeply. Tracks like the choppy Anna Ustinova (apparently named after a Kazakhstani high jumper), the anthemic and album-encapsulating Balding Generation (Losing Hair As We Lose Hope) and the Hermitage trio that harks back to the Flares period, are satisfying because they are dependable rather than risky.
One track does stand out in the more traditional sense. The Photoshopped Prince is a port-royal rarity: an actual proper song, with verses and a chorus. Striking a new waveish pose, and featuring vocals from Michał Wiraszko of Polish band Muchy, its task is to seek an answer to the question “Do you care if I go bald?” (its video is delightfully moral in addressing this). Twinned with the more serious Balding Generation it creates an unexpected alopecia-themed strand to the album.
Dying In Time shows port-royal are no longer afraid to dance, but – Photoshopped playfulness aside – the beats are suffused with with regret rather than joy, as though party was a wake not a straightforward celebration. As such its embrace is warm, reassuring, safe and ever so slightly suffocating. And sometimes (though only sometimes) that is what we need.
close to 94 rating: ★★★★★★★
This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews one album from the eMusic catalogue every week from a selection refreshed every month.