port-royal: 2000-2010: The Golden Age of Consumerism

Calling any release definitive is always risky business, but the urge to do so in the case of port-royal's 2000-2010: The Golden Age of Consumerism is hard to resist for at least a couple of reasons. It's a massive set, to begin with, whose double-disc content totals close to three hours of music. It's also encompassing, given that disc one includes the Kraken and Honvéd EPs, tracks from the Magnitogorsk split with Absent Without Leave, two unreleased tracks, and compilation appearances. The second disc features all of the remixes the Italian electronica outfit—Attilio Bruzzone (guitar, synths, programming, vocals), Ettore Di Roberto (piano, synths, programming, vocals), and Emilio Pozzolini (sampling, programming) the current members—has produced during its decade-long tenure, including ones done for Ladytron, D_rradio, Bitcrush, Televise, and Jatun. As a document of the places port-royal's visited over a ten-year span, then, the release comes pretty close to being indispensible for fans of the band.

The collection's opening Kraken tracks (“Gelassenheit,” “Regine Olsen,” “Divertissement,” “Geworfenheit”) first appeared in 2002 on Genoa's Marsiglia Records and already evident at this early stage is an explorative, sponge-like sensibility intent on integrating ambient, shoegaze, post-rock, and IDM-electronica into a highly personalized electroacoustic hybrid. 2003's harder-hitting “Roliga Timmen” brings a clarity of vision to the band's attack that would reach fruition on the band's acclaimed debut full-length, Flares, issued on Resonant Recordings in 2005. Some of the 2007 Honvéd tracks capture the group trying on different styles to see how they fit: on the one hand there's “Stasi,” an exercise in slow-burning, guitar-fueled atmospherics that would satisfy the Sigur Rós fan, and “The Beat of the Tiger,” a jaunty, swing-time setting that sounds like some lost Eno-Manzanera collaboration laid down during the Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy-Diamond Head era. The 2008 Magnitogorsk tracks “Ernst Bloch” and “Agent 008 Codename Littlehorses (aka The Lazybones)” likewise find the band indulging in epic ambient haze and guitar-laced atmospherics, with even a bit of glitchy drum programming added for good measure. Though it shows up late on the eighty-minute opening disc, the penultimate track “Günther Anders” (in a previously unreleased extended version) is one of the first half's highlights on account of the patience and clear-sightedness with which it pursues its ambient-shoegaze-techno vision.

Not being familiar with many of the original versions of the remix tracks included on disc two, I'll refrain from commenting on the similarities and differences between original and remix. But I can comment on the degree to which the artists' material is transformed into something closer in spirit to a port-royal piece, something that sometimes happens during the eighty-minute disc. Ak Kids' “Shree Bang Special,” Jatun's “Blanket of Ash,” and Televise's “If I Told You” have all the epic sweep of a port-royal composition, so much so that in a blindfold test the tracks could be identified as the band's own before anything else; the brooding post-rock of Millimetrik's “Les protagonistes du rien” could likewise be mistaken for a port-royal original. That wouldn't happen in the case of Felix Da Housecat's poppy stepper “We All Wanna Be Prince,” even if port-royal does soak it in a bath of guitar grime. Also on the poppier tip are Cruiser's “You+Me+Ever” and Blown Paper Bags' “E-Ink P-Ride,” but the standout in this sub-category is Ladytron's blazing anthem “Tomorrow.” A few tracks bring port-royal's glitchier side to the fore (e.g., Illuminated Faces' “Damage,” Felix's “Back In Style”), while others could be characterized as exemplars of n5MD's “emotional electronica” style (e.g., Absent Without Leave's “Blind,” Inlandsis's “Fréquentations”)

By now, whatever downside there is to such a collection should be obvious: with so many different directions and styles included, the port-royal band identity can't help but go in and out of focus. But that's to be expected when a release documents a decade's worth of twists and turns, and what we witness is the ongoing growth and mutation of a band that to some degree always has presented itself as a work-in-progress. Eventually 2000-2010: The Golden Age of Consumerism may come to be seen as a taking-stock gesture that fills the gap between the group's 2009 n5MD debut Dying In Time and whatever new material it's working on at the moment for the Oakland-based label.

March 2011