6/23/08: Port O'Brien

All We Could Do Was Sing
Release date: May 20, 2008
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Sounds like: Maritime folk-rock with an art-pop twist, Neil Young’s On The Beach, a plugged in and slightly more grounded Devendra Banhart

Salty California-by-way-of-Alaska folkies plug in and steer their acoustic ramblings of albums past (see the excellent 2007 release The Wind And The Swell) into artsy and earthy electric rock waters on 2008’s All We Could Do Was Sing. Lead single “I Woke Up Today” stampedes with a newfound jolt of amplified energy (its older incarnation was a full-throated holler, only acoustic), and “Close The Lid” combines jangly guitars and jagged, out-of-tune vocals to successful indie-rock effect. Woven throughout All We Could Do Was Sing are the real-life nautical tales of Port O’Brien’s lead duo, Van Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin, who join Van’s family every summer on the remote Kodiak Island, Alaska, Van to fish for salmon on his father’s boat and Cambria to work as a baker in the local cannery. The acoustic-based authenticity birthed of those experiences produces the aptly titled “Fisherman’s Son” and the shaggy, slow-moving “Stuck On A Boat,” while a sort of 1970s-era Neil Young rock pops up on “Alive For Nothing.” Goodwin’s slightly cracked voice shines through the sad haze of “The Roof Top Song,” but scratchy album closer “Valdez” sends mixed signals: it hearkens back to Port O’Brien’s lo-fi freak folk days, but seems out of place rounding off this new set of more electrified tunes. Whether the quieter Port O'Brien was a stronger band is up for debate. Still, if your heart soars at the evocative sound of seafaring life’s romantic renderings (this writer guilty), you’ll love Port O’Brien for their humble yet vigorously affecting musical mission statement.

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