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"All We Could Do Was Sing"

Port O'Brien – All We Could Do Was Sing
13 August 2008, 16:00 Written by
There's no shortage of nautical imagery in the realm of music, particularly in the indie-folk set. Enter Port O'Brien, with their sophomore effort All We Could Do Was Sing, a 'not-quite' concept album loosely based on the sea. The main difference between Port O'Brien and other sea-shanty belting artists, however, is that this Oakland band has a sublimely intimate connection to their subject matter; founding members (and romantic partners) Van Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin spend every summer on Kodiak Island in Alaska - Pierszalowski fishing on his father's boat and Goodwin baking at the Larsen Bay Cannery.Album opener 'I Woke Up Today' engages straightaway with a cacophony of seemingly extemporary percussion and a frantic amalgam of singing/shouting that, with good reason, has been drawing comparisons to Bodies Of Water and The Arcade Fire. Port O'Brien perpetuates the nautical theme by using ocean wave sound effects as a bridge to the abundantly less frenzied, lo-fi 'Stuck On A Boat'. It's this track where we get our first sense of the album's autobiographical leanings: "It's harder to have you here/in the cannery so near/baking bread and drinking wine/all just to pass the time".'Fisherman's Son' is an emotionally personal song where the narrator attempts to reconcile the world he was born into with the world where he lives, coming away feeling rather out of place in both. The twangy 'Don't Take My Advice' keeps the narrator's sense of detachment rolling along: "I'm not ready to settle down, goddamn I just started looking 'round". Cambria Goodwin takes the lead vocal in the bluesy 'In Vino Veritas' - a perfect achingly lonely yin to Van Pierszalowski's yang on 'Stuck On A Boat'. While not technically the last track of the album (that's left to a short track recalling the Exxon-Valdez disaster), 'Close The Lid' is a perfect bookend to opener 'I Woke Up Today'. The raucous full band sound returns, however where 'I Woke Up Today' is a paean to the new day, 'Close The Lid' smacks of a fisherman who is ready to stay grounded for a while.Port O'Brien has been making waves (no pun intended) for a couple of years, helped along by touring slots with acts like Bright Eyes and Modest Mouse and being outed as M. Ward's "favorite new band" last year. And now they've successfully furthered their own cause with All We Could Do Was Sing. The album is a quilt of musical stylings from lush strings to electric-guitar rocking to folky twang, pieced together with lyrics of displacement, loneliness, and desperation. 82%Port O'Brien on MySpace
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