port-royal: Flares

Imagine Godspeed You! Black Emperor with a greater guitar emphasis and a more measured handling of dynamics and you'll have some idea of the epic, widescreen panoramas etched by Genoa-based guitar collective port-royal on its 77-minute debut. Two years in the making, Flares features no less than two three-part suites (“Zobione” and the title piece) but don't mistakenly dismiss the album as an exercise in bloated self-indulgence as, despite its length, it's anything but. Instead, it's a remarkably accomplished and carefully modulated collection of immersive soundscapes that, on multiple occasions, flirts with majestic beauty.

The band conjures long, trance-inducing compositions that evolve through multiple episodes of guitar-drum crescendos, becalmed interludes, and shimmering washes of electric guitar. port-royal also carefully modulates its delivery. When its sound escalates to a massive ambient pitch in “Spetsnaz/Paul Leni,” for instance, the result is powerful, even anthemic, but not abrasive. Interestingly, beats appear though not always; while most bands root their music in its rhythm section, the nucleus of port-royal's sound is clearly the guitar. Most importantly, the group proves itself capable of creating deeply poignant music. In the first of many magical moments, a stately crescendo of ringing guitar fields in “Zobione Pt. 2” rises to a majestic roar that's so beautiful it's almost overwhelming. The band deploys a similar effect in the thirteen-minute “Karola Bloch” and “Flares Pt. 2” where streaming guitar masses billow over conventional rhythm bases. As powerful as the effect is, though, it's easy to envision it becoming a too-prevalent signature of the band, given the number of times it's exploited on Flares. A greater incorporation of stylistic contrast is one way of avoiding that trap. The opener “Jeka” does exactly that by largely eschewing guitars for blurry piano chords and speaking voices while “Stimmung” does much the same by closing the album with a misty ambient episode. The deeply beautiful music port-royal conjures throughout Flares will appeal greatly to listeners with an appetite for blissful, guitar-based soundscaping.

June 2005