Like Bon Ivor, there’s great romance in Port O’Brien‘s back-story. The group’s two main players Cambria Goodwin and Van Pierszalowski are romantically linked, with their lives played out in a manner you might expect of a novel. Part-time musicians, Pierszalowski spends the summer months away from his partner, working aboard his father’s Alaskan commercial salmon fishing boat while Cambria holds down a job as head baker at Larsen Bay cannery on Alaska’s Kodiak Island, keeping the small fishing community and its workers in baked goods. If that weren’t enough, the band are named after a bay on Alaska’s Kodiak Island where Pierszalowski’s parents met.
The group’s debut All We Could Do Was Sing tempered the romantic view of life on the ocean with its harsh reality, an emotionally heavy collection of acoustic led songs propped up by some warm indie-pop melodies which signalled a sort of spiritual awakening It was deeply influenced by the pair’s changing environments (when Goodwin and Pierszalowski aren’t fishing in Alaska during the summer, they’re seeking rest bite in Northern California). Again mood is crucial on Threadbare, their second album proper. The formula remains the same, although the intensity has increased, making for a denser more introspective work at odds with the pair’s original intentions.
Having approached the record with the plan of making a fresh, light and loose work, tragedy intervened on the eve of recording through the death of Goodwin’s younger brother. Although the loss doesn’t as such influence Threadbare‘s songs, at least on the surface of things, it definitely impacts on the mood. There is lightness here, although it has to wrestle, fight and struggle for illumination amid the darkness.
Port O’Brien are a band where the emotional mood of the performances very much seeps into the songs. For example, when Goodwin takes vocal duties (such as on the album’s title track), the sense of loss and despair in her voice is so over-whelming that it’s uncomfortable. The sombre and desolate tones continue to infuse songs such as -Darkness Visible’ and the haunting and meditative -Calm Me Down’, but this is a record of two halves. While the darkness pervades, it doesn’t quite dominate. Songs such as the upbeat -Leap Year’, -In The Meantime’ and standout track, -My Will Is Good’, may not quite dispel the over-riding mood but they do offer light at the end of the tunnel and showcase much sonic progression. Furthermore, they arrive dipped in delicious melodies. Beauty too bleeds through the gorgeous -Next Season’, which sees the pair’s vocals rub off each other as if skin to silk.
As second records go, Threadbare excels for feeling. Throughout the emotions, within both the songs and its players, informs the performances. Threadbare can prove difficult at times, but it ultimately points toward an act very much continuing to progress. Although it may remain at sea, there’s something special to come from this act in the future.