port-royal: Where Are You Now

With each album, port-royal's sound appears to undergo a transformation. Certainly Where Are You Now seems worlds away from the focused post-rock of the group's 2005 debut full-length Flares, and if there's a less extreme difference between the new album and the trio's first n5MD release, 2009's Dying in Time, differences are nonetheless present. On the group's latest wide-screen offering, Attilio Bruzzone, Ettore Di Roberto, and Emilio Pozzolini are joined by guests Alexandr Vatagin, Kenji Kumemura, Giada Zerbo (Vittoria Fleet), and Andrea Zangrandi (Diamat), among others, in a near-eighty-minute set that covers a broad range of genres and occasionally flirts with the mainstream. It's not uncommon on Where Are You Now for a track to change stylistic shape multiple times over the course of its nine- or ten-minute run (twelve in the case of “The Last Big Impezzo”).

Though “Death of a Manifesto” opens in quintessentially atmospheric port-royal mode, worrisome signs do surface when vocal treatments appear of the kind one might expect to hear on a Kesha or Britney Spears single than a track by port-royal. There's nothing unappealing about Bea May's singing otherwise, but the stuttering effect, while admittedly a memorable hook, seems crass. The silky voice of Viola d'Acquarone fares better on “Alma M.,” despite the fact that it, too, embraces a radio-friendly electropop style without apology; of the vocal-based pieces, “Whispering in the Dark” might be the most successful in the way it flawlessly fuses pop song melodies and instrumental design, though the pretty “Heisenberg” is also strong, especially when it backs May with acoustic guitars and theremin.

The album does include ambitiously conceived and executed settings that steer clear of the mainstream, a case in point “Ain't No Magician,” which serves up eight panoramic minutes of ambient soundscaping and vibrant scenepainting. “Theodor W. Adorno” namechecks the influential Frankfurt School philosopher, but the reason for doing so is obscure, given that the muscular, ten-minute setting is an instrumental blend of industrial, electro, and techno. Elsewhere, Michele Di Roberto's heavy drumming gives the buzzing roar of “The Last Big Impezzo” an additional boost, while “The Man Who Stole the Hype” and “Karl Marx Song” rival it in energy.

Given the forays into populist genres such as electropop and the like, the new album will possibly alienate those who prefer the band in its earlier incarnation; listeners with an appetite for a more commercial-sounding version of port-royal will, on the other hand, be more receptive to the band's current sound. At the very least, the album offers something for everyone when it encompasses such a wide stylistic palette.

November 2015