Portland EP is an intimate, interesting recording by Brian Benzinger. It sounds like a home recording, not in fidelity but like a really personal mixtape carefully put together and sent out. There are elements of Neutral Milk Hotel and Thom Yorke in Benzinger’s voice and some interesting guitar and keyboard work throughout.
The EP opens appropriately with “Intro” which in an instrumental song that sounds completely different than anything that follows it. After some echoed atmospheric guitar arpeggios, drums, keyboards and additional guitars come crashing in. There’s some Explosions In The Sky elements, but as if the band was also into folk rock.
“Snakes In The Grass” is a song with a waltz-like organ, evoking Beck at a circus. There’s some interesting lead acoustic guitar work, additional organs and some samples laid in throughout the rest of the song. Benzinger’s voice becomes clearer as the song goes through, which makes for an interesting concept of the “snake in the grass” getting closer to the listener.
“Stormbreaker” starts with some McCartney-ish acoustic guitar before adding some Radiohead like guitars and vocals over it. The song floats somewhere between The White Album and The Bends before adding some psychedelia after the first chorus. There’s some lush harmonies added throughout the song on top of some electric piano before breaking out into a fuzzed out instrumental break.
“Winter Road” starts out with a stark vocal line before backwards guitars fly by like passing lights on highway over a persistent groove from the drum programming. The subtle changes in instrumentation as the song continues is a strength that Benzinger displays throughout the EP, making each verse and chorus stand out as its own by being slightly different.
“Cannon Beach” is the best song on the EP. There’s an excellent guitar pattern that pervades throughout the song and helps the drive. The melody is dreamy and shows some nice space throughout to contrast with the accompaniment. Some of the drum programming gets a little distracting with hectic fills and abrupt changes, but gives a great sense of drive and relief when it locks back in.
“Alberta” closes the EP with airy dreamy vocals over echoed minor acoustic guitar chords. There’s a melancholic nostalgic quality to the song that wears some Bon Iver on its sleeve, particularly when the song breaks down and builds back up again.
Overall, Portland EP jumps around in style but not so far as to alienate and confuse the listener. There’s a songwriting voice that resonates throughout each song giving the EP some consistency. Benzinger’s voice and guitar work make for some nice melodies and parts. The drum programming takes away from some of the songs at times, but overall there’s a personal touch in the songwriting throughout that forgives some of those inconsistencies.
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