port-royal: Dying In Time

It's great to see port-royal (Attilio Bruzzone, Ettore Di Roberto, Emilio Pozzolini, Sieva Diamantakos) now comfortably ensconced at n5MD following its tenure with the now-defunct Resonant, especially when the band's current style feels so much in sync with the n5MD aesthetic. Following on the heels of 2005's Flares and 2007's Afraid To Dance, the Italian outfit's third full-length, Dying In Time, shows that the group's sound has evolved from an epic shoegaze-and-post-rock hybrid into something even more stylistically encompassing and electronics-oriented (techno even surfaces in a couple of places). The poppy synth effects, rousing vocals, and big beats that inaugurate “The Photoshopped Prince,” for instance, might sound to listeners familiar with the band's previous output as the work of an entirely different band. One thing hasn't changed: as the album title indicates, port-royal hasn't traded in its music's melancholic disposition for something carefree and light-hearted.

Anything but shrinking violets, the group opts for a sound that's wall-to-wall epic in the extreme, with electronics, synthesizers, beats, vocals, and guitars all caught up in an immense, dizzying vortex of sound. Rather than hewing to a single style or mood, many of the tracks change shape a number of times, something that generous running times (many in the eight-minute range) accommodate. Though “Susy: Blue East Fading,” for example, begins in ethereal dreamscape mode, it's not long before the music swells into a throbbing powerhouse perched halfway between techno and shoegaze. “Balding Generation (Losing Hair As We Lose Hope)” likewise spends it first half in pulsating techno-shoegaze mode before decompressing for a less intense second.

Starts strongly with the epic, symphonic post-rock-and-shoegaze of “Hva (Failed Revolutions)” where the vocals of guest Natalia Fiedorczuk are almost buried under the group's reverberant swirl of beats and electronics. Hyperactive in spirit, the restless track abruptly shifts time signatures throughout, resisting any urge to stabilize itself for long. The even more aggressive “Nights in Kiev,” a blizzard stomper that exudes all the propulsion of a feverish techno throwdown, downshifts from its 4/4 throttle midway through before just as suddenly picking itself up again for an equally grandiose coda. The group catches its breath during the peaceful first half of “Exhausted Muse/Europe,” which allows Alexandr Vatagin's cello and Linda Bjalla's vocal whisper to be heard, before the decimating storm rolls in during the second. In prog-like fashion, port-royal caps the release with the three-part “Hermitage,” which rolls out dramatic sheets of sound for seventeen slow-burning minutes.

At seventy-two minutes, Dying In Time is a long album and, because of its dense sound and epic attack, draining too so listeners accompanying the band on the undertaking are advised to settle in and get comfortable. Some bands mellow over time but the new release finds port-royal producing music that's as powerful (if not more) than anything it's issued to date.

November 2009