Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep: Port-Royal - Flares (Resonant)

Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep

Monday, July 03, 2006

Port-Royal - Flares (Resonant)

Since this album can be found at number 1 in my top albums list, it is only fair I review it for you. It's also worth noting that it has just recently been repackaged and is again available from their thier label, Resonant , website. The band are currently recording a brand new album, which should come out this year. I'm hoping to have some information on this very soon. But this album MUST be heard

Port-Royal are a group of friends from Genoa, Italy who make stunning ambient electronic and guitar music. You cannot define this band simply as post-rock as their slow-building, atmospheric album "Flares" is an absolute masterpiece form start to finish. This album is both beautiful and mesmerising, but yet, its the underlying tension that really catches you. In fact, the influential leftfield music magazine The Wire hits the nail on the head describing their sound as "shimmering widescreen guitar textures, augmented with home-recorded percussion, subtle vocal samples and electronics".

Since 2000 the five members have been slowly honing their skills and building up vintage equipment and instruments while writing material for this album. Before the eclectic Resonant label picked them up, their only release was the 2002 CD-R "Kraken" Ep through Italian label Marsiglia Records. This Ep was an excellent indication of the potential the band possessed. It has proved time well spent with recording and writing only being interrupted by sporadic gigging through Italy. The band themselves described the actual recording "two intense years of hopes and doubts". These doubts can be felt in the aforementioned tension. Yet this album is also incredibly tranquil, with the bands ability to wrap their music round you like a blanket.

Unlike most post-rock bands, who are too eager to get to the loud/distortion parts, Port-Royal allow their music to develop slowly, showing incredible restraint, while heightening the tension. Some of the album must have been written amid the 2001 G8 riots in Genoa. Maybe this was an influence on the song "Karola Bloch", which starts with quiet acoustic guitar strums and some vocal samples, before filtered beats weave in and out in combination with synth strings. Around the middle of this track, the mood changes as if peaceful protests have suddenly descended into riots. The electronics become more frantic and chaotic while the lovely waves of sound compete to be heard. However, the tranqulity and peace of the beautiful Italian city is restored as the synths are pushed forward in the mix combined with delayed guitars and restrained drums. It is an outstanding track.

The "Flares" album is based around two three part songs "Flares" and "Zobione", its the former track that initially stands out. "Flares Pt.1" slowly builds with each bubbling note an essential part. Beats are tentatively introduced before making way for the beautiful guitar opening of "Flares Pt.2". Here the electronics make way for live drums giving a Sigur Ros style feel to the song. The track gradually gets louder eventually you are totally enveloped in a wall of sound that makes you feel you are floating on clouds. Towards the end guitars and xylophone combine to stunning effect. "Flares Pt.3" again starts with eerie atmospherics, but this time you feel you are at the bottom of the ocean. The fractured beats and programming heighten this sensation, before it all ends in 100 ft waves of feedback and drones.

Bands such as Mogwai and Sigur Ros are reference points, but there is a lot more to Port-Royal' sound "Stimmung" would not be out of place on a Labradford or even a Fennesz release and the restraint mentioned earlier brings to mind Charles Atlas. In fact, it is a major reason why this album is so mesmerizing. They have incorporated a lot of their influences into it, while ensuring it has their own mark as well. The members obviously listen to a lot of electronica artists found on labels such as Neo Ouija, Type and Merck. These influences can be heard on "Spetsnaz - Paul Leni" and shows a band willing to listen and learn, always progressing and developing their sound.

Some articles I have read haven't been as favourable as me towards this album. In a Decoy Music article on Italian bands, the author claimed he "didn't quite get" what the band was doing. In all honesty, there's not much to get, the music is just simply stunning. There's no ulterior motive, it is ambient guitar and ethereal electronic music that is totally engrossing for the full 77 minutes of the album , that float by as if it is the best dream you've ever had.

The band are also in good company, Resonant has many great artists, but Port-Royal stand head and shoulders above the them all.

The 3 part "Zobione" is easily one of the best tracks I've ever heard. It is completely absorbing and has you wishing it will never end. Part 1 starts like Labradford or Stars Of The Lid and evokes images of snow capped mountains, with its glacial tones and filtered guitars, before Part 2 is introduced with playful beats and dream-like guitars. The tension builds as the beats get gradually louder, when crashing live drums take over as two guitars play in tandem. The orchestral washes of sound are an excellent compliment.

Possibly the best part of the album occurs just after the halfway mark of this song, as a huge slab of distorted guitar brings everything to a juddering stop. Drums are looped backwards, the music ending almost 30 minutes after it started as the drums are slowly reduced in the mix leaving those glacial tones again. When I first heard this, it made my spine tingle the way great music does.

This album deservedly sits on the top of my favourite albums of the past year list. I thought instrumental guitar music was at a plateau with mostly derivate acts around at the moment. I wish I was wrong more often.

But don't just take my word for it the links below, are other reviews I've found around the web. There is also links to their website and myspace site too (where you can hear 4 of the tracks mentioned). A video of "Flares Pt.3" is also availible to download from their site and is an excellent companion.

Angry Ape Review
Tiny Mix Tapes Review
Stylus Mag review
Indieworkshop Review

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