Album: PORT-ROYAL – Afraid To Dance (Resonant RESCD024 2007)

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Genoese quartet Port-Royal seemingly appeared from nowhere in 2005 when Resonant released the astonishingly assured debut album Flares. Part rock, part electronic, this was instrumental music on a truly epic scale, with two three part suites in “Zobione” and “Flares” exceeding twenty minutes. Every second was justified, though, on what was one of the finest releases of the year. Other bands have meshed electronic beats and guitars, but few as seamlessly. It was an album that never palled no matter how many times it was played.

To debut with something quite that good is nearly always bad news for a group as they spend the rest of their days failing to live up to their own standards. Afraid To Dance was recorded over a period of a year and a half between May 2005 and October 2006, so it’s not as if the album hasn’t had a lot of work put into it. And happily it’s paid off. In fact, Port-Royal have outdone themselves.

Sensibly Afraid To Dance uses the template of the group’s debut, but simultaneously stretches the music into new directions. Vocals have been added for the first time, sung by guest Giovanna Gallo, but these are used as extra instrumental colour rather than as the focal point of the two tracks that they appear on. There is also a greater variety of pace with “Deca-Dance” using a pounding techno beat where other tracks have a more languid tempo. Elsewhere there are echoes of acts as diverse as Global Communication, Labradford, Brian Eno, Robert Miles, Sigur Rós, Pink Floyd, Mogwai, Slowdive and Mezzanine-era Massive Attack. Like Flares, the album flows as one long piece, but is a more eclectic work, and more tightly edited.

Afraid To Dance shows that Flares was no fluke. Port-Royal mix electronica, ambient music and post-rock (I actually hate all these labels, but this isn’t music that’s easy to pin down in words) to create somthing truly their own. They are one of the most remarkable bands around at the moment. If a better record is released this year, I can’t wait to hear it.

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