PORT-ROYAL- Dying In Time

Evolution in action, this. ‘Dying In Time’, the third record from Italian troupe Port-Royal, continues their steady transition from promising but pretty formulaic post-rockers to electric-powered, genre-jumping god-knows-what. Hell, with 8-minute opener ‘Hva’- all breathy, ambient swells rising to crashing-surf static and fidgety glitches before succumbing to total meltdown- the band have pretty much captured the shifting sands of their sound. It’s more missing movie soundtrack chapter than proper song and while at times it’s docile and dreamy and at others a bracing wake-up call, it’s ever-so-exciting as it goes and always disarmingly beautiful.

Growth isn’t always so graceful though and while the closing three-part epic here is post-everything, Radiohead-ian (‘Ok Computer’ and Kid A’) bliss, other tracks skip and pop and clash and struggle to gel their separate elements. So instead of accomplished, complete conclusion, the impression is that this is a sound that needs work, needs time and love and attention. And it’s a sound which we’ve caught only part way to its best. Like Port-Royal have released demos of a dramatic, awkward but rewarding growth spurt rather than their third album proper.

Sure, there is balance to be found- on ‘Exhausted Muse’ and among the ethereal whispers and icicle cracks of ‘Anna Ustinova’ especially- and something like ‘Nights In Kiev’ is a signpost to a future even further away from pure post-rock, but really this is the sound of a band in flux, a band perhaps on the edge of discovering something great, and it’s where Port-Royal go next that’ll really be worth watching.


OWL CITY- Ocean Eyes

Not every album can really mean it, man. ‘Ocean Eyes’, the major-label debut for one-man band Adam Young, is simple, fun, and generally skips across the surface of things. But while that might irk a few grumps and curmudgeons, it doesn’t stop this from working like a charm. All skittering electronics, gentle sighs, and flossy pop sounds, fans of The Secret Handshake and The Postal Service will find much to enjoy here. Opener ‘Cave In’ is bright and breezy, ‘Hello Seattle’ will hum around your head for days, probably working even better if you know the city and can follow Young on his alternative tour, and if ‘Umbrella Beach’- featuring gentle surf sounds and slick boyband-pop- were any sunnier it’d burn holes in your headphones. ‘Fireflies’ though, is the sleeper hit (or not so sleepy, as it’s currently number one in the US charts), glossy and clean but shot through with emotion and just a hint that Owl City does have more than one road to travel down. ‘Ocean Eyes’ rarely dares to be deep and meaningful then but it does find Young having major fun, inspiring smiles with serious aplomb, and pretty much mastering his pop art. Take that, haters.


THE FALL OF TROY- In The Unlikely Event

Sometimes you get what you wish for. And all you pesky kids that thought The Fall Of Troy’s last record, the thoroughly excellent ‘Manipulator’, wasn’t fast, hard, or (sigh) extreme enough, better be happy with ‘In The Unlikely Event’. Everything you complained about being missing is back- there are schizophrenic extremes, off-kilter structures, thrash riffs, blinding technicality and dozens of strangled screams. Unfortunately though, that means almost everything else the Washington outfit were doing that was quietly pushing them into a league of their own has been abandoned to make room.

Opener ‘Panic Attack!’ starts strong but just brushes the surface of what the band have done before, ‘Straight-Jacket Keelhauled’ sounds like the band actually were having panic attacks at their instruments, intense but forgettable and even a little silly in the long run, and although Protest The Hero’s Rody Walker adds some powerful vocals to ‘Dirty Pillow Talk’, the song struggles to go in so many directions at once it ends up getting nowhere.

Thankfully, some things never change. It’s still impossible to believe that it’s just three skinny dudes making all the noise here, they’re still dudes with some serious skill, and, underneath the silly schizophrenia and forced fury, this is a band that still have an uncanny knack for a hook. ‘Single’ feels like a collection of cool parts rather than a complete song but pivots around a killer chorus, and ‘A Classic Case Of Transference’- somewhere between a lost Muse classic and the next Tim Burton movie soundtrack, packed with genuinely experimental licks, big riffs and shimmering, pristine pop hooks- is truly brilliant.

It’s not enough to save this record though and perhaps the worst news of all here is that these highlights won’t have you sticking with this record but digging out your copies of ‘Doppelganger’ and ‘Manipulator’ instead. ‘In The Unlikely Event’ is what so many people asked for but in the end there’s little traction, depth, drive or character here. This is a backwards step and then some.


Sure, there’s always going to be a nagging feeling that this is all one big joke. A silly, giggling, desperately arty, music hack’s wet dream of a joke that’s about as subtle as a lead pipe to the brain. With a stupid name. But there’s just no discounting the industrial soundtrack chug of ‘Rough Steez’, sidestepping the seismic yet sparkling shifts of ‘The Lisbon Maru, or stifling your subconscious from painting images along to the wails, walls and waves of noise of ‘Olympians’. And if you can ignore the euphoric, cinematic scope of opener ‘Surf Solar’, you’re probably deaf. Or very very dull. That a few of these tracks go past the ten-minute mark but never feel fat or tired is a feat all of its own too, but when all you want is for them to go on longer, reach further, and push harder, you’re on very rare territory indeed. This isn’t just a great record then, one that renders the Fuck Buttons debut pretty much redundant, but a grand one- a post-everything dance epic meant to make your mouth water and your mind wander and your heart soar. And if you still don’t get that as ‘Flight Of The Feathered Serpent’ crashes to a close then you never will. Wonderful.


Surely no one was expecting this. By now Bon Iver (just Justin Vernon to his mum) was supposed to be busy writing a debut full-length, an album to capitalize on the success of ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’. If not that then at least crumbling under the pressure of following up one of the most warmly (if not quite widely) received records of recent times. He’s certainly not supposed to be releasing an experimental electronic side-project with some friends from back home. But thank god Vernon doesn’t care much for how things are supposed to go, because this is beautiful.

'Husks And Shells’ starts simply enough, with a slight, sombre acoustic guitar strum, but it soon stutters and loops and layers alongside vocal swells, picked strings and an insistent soft beep, finishing not a billion miles from where it started but surprising all the same. ‘Seeplymouth’ too revels in the unexpected, a six-minute cut-and-paste experiment of drum loops, soft drones and Vernon’s pitched and altered clicks and harmonies, ‘Cool Knowledge’ is a collage of humming and sparse but dancey beats, and ‘Youlogy’ is like the soundtrack to some great adventure going horribly wrong.

‘Still’ sounds warm and familiar as it cribs lyrics from Bon Iver’s ‘Woods’ and ‘Island, IS’ is about as close as this choir get to a conventional song but the best, most beautiful bits here are the odd, hypnotic and alien moments. And while none of these are breakneck twists and turns, they’re more than enough to have your head reeling and your ears finely pricked for whatever else might come next. Totally unexpected but utterly exceptional.