It’s been a little while since I’ve heard musicians tread into unusual territory sonically. Slick, beautiful sameness is de rigeur in trap-accented pop music, and even the more out-there electronic music I’ve been listening to consists largely of the same synthesizer presets rearranged over stock drum samples. Folks just don’t seem to get weird in quite the same way they had been only ten years ago.
Porterfield, fortunately, is a group willing to step over that line. Though at turns jazzy, baroque, folksy and spacey, the band self-identifies as indie rock. At first I wasn’t sure if that was the best way to describe Amber, the group’s brief first EP, but as opener “Blue Genes” started unfurling I was quickly reminded of the broad slate of gonzo mid-‘00s indie acts.
It’d be tough for me to pin down Porterfield’s immediate influences, but the three tracks on Amber share the experimental spirit of Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, Dodos, and perhaps Fleet Foxes at their most bizarre. I wouldn’t think twice if you told me Amber was released in 2006, and I mean that completely as a compliment. Though scarcely 14 minutes long, the EP feels like a significantly longer journey, weaving disparate sounds into long tapestries.
The key to understanding Amber for me was the middle song, “Willow Tree.” Its elusive time signature, atypical percussion and celestial choral parts all synthesized wonderfully, but the power of the track came from an almost Paul Simon-like lead vocal and guitar performance from songwriter Jacob Aviner. You can’t reach the heights Porterfield is shooting for without a solid foundation, and Aviner’s competency in developing that foundation is evident on “Willow Tree.”
“Amber” the EP’s closing track most clearly demonstrated the entire band’s skills, particularly the burbling synth bass parts JP Goldman coaxed from a Moog analog synth. The dynamism of the track was also greatly enhanced by Raphael Lehnen’s textural drums. Lehnen’s jazz influence gives him a good sense of how to best complement the melodic elements of a very busy arrangement without competing for volume or rhythmic space. The performers all gel nicely, which helps instill an organic quality in songs that are given heaps of overdubbed vocal and instrument parts.
Porterfield is apparently prepping a full-length album, and if Amber is any indication, it’ll be a record for ceiling-gazers to get deeply lost in. I’d recommend this EP to anyone with the patience for the aural payoffs—if you like punch-you-in-the-face power-pop, Amber might not be your bag, but otherwise you’ll catch yourself singing the “knees and elbows” line from “Willow Tree” in the shower. There are so many moods that flit past on Amber, but they rarely clash, instead coalescing into a beautiful patchwork.
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