12 February 2011

Ports of Call: "Fractals" EP

My thanks to Thomas Mosher, of Ports of Call, for keeping me in the loop.

What is a fractal? In a nutshell it is a geometric design that can be split into smaller parts and those parts should some how reflect / mimic the original, or, conversely, build up by using the same part to create something that reflects / mimics the original somehow. So if we go back to February 2008, the days before SlowdiveMusic Blog, you may have come across Ports of Call’s debut album, “Like Thieves…” These are the original triangles, so to say, of their take on shoegaze and space rock. Now, with their follow up, “Fractals” EP (1 February 2011), you can hear the band overlaying these triangles one upon the other and revealing new dimensions to their music. And in my current shoegaze obsessed world, where melody and distortion collide, Ports of Call’s “Fractals” is a serendipitous listening experience.

This quintet hails from The City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA), and sports an infectious psychedelic shoegaze sound. But returning to my metaphor of a triangle, this time they are sporting a wider range of triangles, which include noise pop and dream pop. They don’t necessarily wear their influences on their sleeves, and you will be pressed to find a single band or song they model themselves on, which shows they are more interested in expanding a genre than trivial rehashing. What really caught my attention about the band sonically is a sense of timelessness. This is music that could easily have been produced in the heydays of shoegaze, yet it is fresh and viable in today’s indie music scenes. To pull this off should be for any listener the first piece of evidence that the band has songwriting chops.

The EP opens with “Fadophobia,” which has amazing vocal arrangements, starting with simple, but beautiful strumming, the song quickly builds to include a sometimes arpeggiated lead guitar, a steady rhythm, and ambient keys in the background – sometimes trippy, sometimes aggressive, depending on the guitars, this is an ingeniously arranged song. Followed by “Transparent Apparent,” the mood is more pensive and the track really capitalizes on some shoegaze tricks, like juxtaposing distortion with crisper guitar sounds. What will grab you about “Selective Memory Machine” is the fact it is the background, ambient keys, that really catches your attention and drives much of the arrangements, in much the same way that post-punk artists did with minimal keys. Then “Ballinora” slips in, with some acoustic strumming in the opening, this is noise pop for a new generation – short, direct, distorted, and urgent. Of course, there is that interesting interlude/break in the middle of the song, which proves that Ports of Call has the song writing chops to think of music dramatically. “Fractals” closes with “Mainlines.” The keys may make you think space rock all of the sudden, but don’t sell the track short! You see, this is one of those schizophrenic tracks that pack in tons of musical references and somehow has it all in control. And in this unexpected jamboree of musical styles that really resists labels (not shoegaze, not dream pop, not space rock, not dream pop), you get a glimpse that Ports of Call has more to offer than the “Fractals” EP hints at.

Now, I know that shoegaze may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I know I am about to sound arrogant when I say, “But it should be!” Beautiful distortion, incredible melodies, and infectious rhythms, Ports of Call is definitely one of the bands from The City of Brotherly Love that you need to check out.

Track Listing:
1. Fadophobia
2. Transparent Apparent
3. Selective Memory Machine
4. Ballinora
5. Mainlines

Keep up with Ports of Call at their MySpace, Facebook, and Bandcamp, where you can preview and purchase both “Fractals” and their debut album, “Like Thieves…” Also, in support of printing a vinyl (yes, vinyl!) release of “Fractals,” the band has set up a Kickstarter page to raise funds … donations are more than welcomed.

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