Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reviews:: Portico First Neighbours

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Honestly, I’m not sure how many more terrific Canadian releases can dominate the early days of 2009. I already have three or four records that will contend for "Best-of" status - I’ve been impressed by Timber Timbre’s transformation, the maturity of Jenn Grant’s newest release, the heights reached by In-Flight Safety and still haven’t had enough time to talk about Bruce Peninsula - and it's not even February yet.

I guess complaining about too much good music in '09 would be like peering into the gullet of a gift horse and checking around, so I'll gladly jump all over a release that will probably be overlooked by many (the band flies so far under the radar they are kind of like that super smart plane in that terrible Jessica Biel/Jamie Foxx flick). East Van residents Portico are back with their third record, First Neighbours and even though we've gushed and gushed about this band before and set the bar really high for their output, Portico Fosbury flops over it with ease.

On first pass, there are so many things that stand out on First Neighbours; the way they balance heavy, distorted guitar with a surprisingly soft touch, melodies that bob along like the little white ball over top of the words on a karaoke machine, the classic “indie – when indie still meant something” rock feel of songs that talk about nothing more than love, awkward silences and f*cking and the way they can transform an instrument like a simple horn into a completely new sound, but it’s when you really dive in that the greatness of this record stand to surface.

It would be enough to go on and on about how god damn catchy this record is… how they don’t throw on superfluous layers and get a bigger, fuller sound with just a bass, drums, a guitar and some harmonies that most of the "collectives" that are cropping up everywhere and how even at 48 minutes, the record flies by way too fast. I could just talk about Lyn Heinemann’s voice is so unique, powerful enough to grab your ear but still feminine and soft, but when it comes to Portico, it’s more about what they say than just how well they say it.

Battle of Duck Lake crunches out of the gate with Mimi’s bass and Greg’s drums helping to form a three-headed beast, but it’s Lyn’s portrayal of the pain and anguish the Metis people suffered and the surge of the epic battle (mimicked nicely with the swirling, chaotic horn) they fought that makes this song so powerful. The simple, spot on riff that bounces along so effortlessly on I Heard There's Proof completely disguises her blunt attack on the gap between the have’s and have not’s that grows wider each year in Vancouver.

Whether its historical narratives - Frank Slide details the events of the tragic Alberta rock slide, A Year Between the Wars tells the story of a family in the Great Depression and the alienation and anger of racism showcased on Louis Riel Leaves The Collège De Montréal - or an honest look at the sex trade in East Vancouver (the heartbreaking Hallmark Poultry Ltd. - which I think is a track written by label mate Leah Abramson), Lyn manages to make each song like a personal experience, putting herself in the protagonist’s skins to recreate the powerful emotions.

The perfect thing about these songs is how the band understands the weight of the listen and seems to have a sixth sense of when to lighten the load. The band’s playful homage to the Pixies (the woo hoos and terrific bass line that fill out the last minute of I Heard There's Proof) forces you to forget the inevitable sadness you just heard and flows perfectly into Unreunion. Easily the most infectious melody of the record and Heinemann addresses the universal themes of love, break ups and the awkwardness of new relationships and new sex. When she admits, “I don’t really care if we can’t talk, we can always fuck”, some of your most awkward moments of your adolescence come flooding back to life.

The only thing stopping this band from being huge is the fact I’m not sure that’s something they even want. Portico seems more than happy to play shows, exist on a great label (Copperspine) that treats them well and write music on their own schedule. With all the one-hit, blog wonders and disappointing records out there, songs as refreshing as the ones on First Neighbours should not be passed up.

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Posted at 8:45 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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