Most reviews submitted for Port St Willow's debut full-length "Holiday" since its original release midway through 2012 have focused on its resemblance to the grandiose indie-rock of The Antlers, with whom Port St Willow's singer/songwriter/instigator Nicholas Principe has collaborated in the past. This review will be no different, however such is the strength of the similarities between the two projects that ignoring them is detrimental.
In reference to this specific release by Downtown Records, quite why an album is being released through "Digital outlets in the UK" after being available for free online for nearly a year is anyone's guess, but Holiday is certainly an album that deserves to be heard whether inside or outside of the context of the sprawling work of Peter Silberman's Antlers project. Like The Antlers' stunning debut "Hospice" it is a meticulously crafted work composed for a single listen that repeats motifs and tropes throughout without ever becoming repetitive.
It is more distant than "Hospice", carrying little of the overbearing emotional weight that it was wrought with but carrying with it a mysterious charm. Many of the falsettos that ring out across the 12 tracks of Holiday are obscured with reverb, leaving the lyrical content as less of a focal point yet not completely obscured. They are at their clearest on the album's highlight 'Amawalk', mirroring the retreating triumphalism of the instrumentation; a repetition of "I Will Be Set Free" giving way to a chorus channelling the billowing assonance of early My Morning Jacket. Again, like "Hospice" it appears in the context of a failing/failed relationship, but there is less reliance on stretched metaphors.
Sonically, it bears a closer resemblance to The Antlers' second full-length "Burst Apart", released roughly a year before Holiday. Much of the space between guitar strokes and sighs is taken up by hazy feedback and punctuated by only occasional slithers of hi-hats and snares in a manner which is also similar to that of Zelienople's already lost classic "The World Is A House On Fire", and also bears the hallmarks of Talk Talk & Bark Psychosis' more shadowy material.
Casual listeners could easily be forgiven for thinking that 'On Your Side' and 'North' from Holiday are made by the same hand as, say, 'Rolled Together' on Burst Apart, such are the parallels in their flow, their open ended nature and crescendos that build beautifully but never truly, excuse the pun, burst apart. Even the new twenty five minute piece 'Soft Light Rush' that bookends this new release of Holiday bares a strong point of comparison to The Antlers, this time on their track 'Sylvia (An Introduction)' which sat as a separate piece to Hospice but also reflected on parts of its narrative, if in a much more concise manner than 'Soft Light Rush'.
So, to put it bluntly, how exactly has Nicholas Principe gotten away with it? Forth-mostly, Holiday isn't an album that relies on its sonic palette; Nicholas' songwriting and ear for an understated hook means this assured debut stands on its own two feet with ease. Unlike a sizeable percentage of artists who take a formula and transplant it onto a structure that cannot bear the weight of its dressing (nu-gaze, nu-grunge, the new acoustic movement or indeed most things 'new/nu') the material on Holiday is strong enough to be stripped back or shifted into a different context without losing the majority of its power. It also acts as an unofficial sister piece to its apparent point of inspiration, rather than tracing paper.
Yet whichever way you look at it Holiday is an enchanting work and one for which Port St Willow deserve to be seen in the same light as their peers, and not in their shadows.
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