Port O’Brien’s “All We Could Do Was Sing” captured post-college life almost perfectly. Over a series of drunken shanties and jams, primary songwriter Van Pierszalowski captured the confusing future of the twenty-something. It was an album primarily about deciding what to do, who to love, what to place at the forefront, and how to deal with those decisions.
Between that album and this new album, “Threadbare,” Port O’Brien went through a band reshuffling dropping all members put primary songwriters Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin. During this period of lineup changes and world tours, Goodwin’s 17-year old younger brother died in a sudden car crash. As a result, the band that hit the blogosphere with “I Woke Up Today” is now in some ways remarkably different and in many ways more mature.
While prior albums focused on temporary estrangement mainly through the lens of Pierszalowski’s summers spent fishing in Alaska, this new album focuses on constant estrangement. The difficulty of permanent choices looms heavy over the album. Importantly, it’s not just the repercussions of the choices but the introspection over what they say. “Oslo Campfire” captures the separation that builds between ourselves and others with the chorus ultimately reflecting the sensation of not having anyone to trust. First single, “My Will is Good”, travels down a similar path thematically striking at a mature sense of self-reliance, the ability to stand behind difficult decisions.
One of the most interesting changes on this album is the increased presence of Cambria Goodwin who now takes on a much larger amount of songwriting. Pierszalowski’s lyrics have always been wonderfully extroverted and anthemic, certainly great enough to anchor a band around. Even so, Goodwin’s increased presence balances the album wonderfully adding touches of introversion and intimacy. The remarkable “Tree Bones”, which has been around for a while, finally get its chance to shine in a fully-produced version showcasing Goodwin’s hushed vocals. “Next Season” wonderfully sprawls out over the tail end of the album. With both songwriters working, the album becomes much rounder and nuanced capturing the dynamics of growing with another person in the wake of life’s changes.
While “Threadbare” is perhaps not as catchy as “All We Could Do Was Sing”, it works better as a full album. It captures the experience of growth and change, relying on two wonderfully different songwriters to bottle it up. At the end of “All We Could Do Was Sing”, one wondered if the band could grow past their first album or if they would forever be known as that fishing band. At the end of “Threadbare”, there is no question that the band can grow and that they have a couple of wonderful albums somewhere in front of them.