our year-end best-of week comes to a close with our favorite albums of 2015. we’ll spare you from reading any more; click on each album cover to navigate away to a review – more often than not from this site – that adequately portrays our opinions. as always, our picks will run in alphabetical order, and you can listen to each album by clicking on the link in its title. dive in.
an album this intimate needs only a few choice words of context.
port st. willow will forever occupy an important plot point on my musical development chart. nick principe’s first full-length under said moniker, holiday, was the first album i discovered via twitter recommendation, thanks to a dutiful tweet from the antlers, and it was one i physically rediscovered eighteen months later in a bin at my local record store on the cusp of a particularly brutal midwestern winter.
i marveled at the cohesion of holiday, at principe’s mournful falsetto, at how percussion could be titanic yet somehow not impede the development of a beautiful soundscape. it’s also one of the few albums i own that actually irritates me, but only because i have to get up and flip the record so many times instead of being able to listen to it uninterrupted.
syncope follows the basic formula of its predecessor closely: it’s an album best-digested in a single session, and principe continues to favorably manipulate what should be a dichotomous relationship between thundering rhythms and tender melodies. yet syncope feels strikingly more improvisatory than holiday; discernible songs eventually materialize, but they’re routinely padded by and birthed from extended passages of patient ambience.
moments of wandering and moments of clarity are both executed beautifully. lead single “ordinary pleasure” dissolves into an aqueous solution aptly titled “an ocean we both know,” which in turn gradually morphs into “atlas.” principe’s meticulous attention to the growth and detail of his ambient interludes is commendable, and he reaps the benefits of his work on “motion,” the pulsating centerpiece of syncope replete with a whistled motif that may be the closest thing to a hook that principe has ever offered.
the explicit momentum of “motion” quickly recedes back into the guarded textures from which it originated, setting the stage for the album’s second half. the b-side of syncope feels even more exposed and vulnerable than its counterpart; acoustic piano peeks through the textures of “orbit back, my garden home” for a brief but prominent feature, its sparseness and preciseness juxtaposing the white noise that eventually resorbs it, while the discernible words amidst principe’s fluid cooing on closing number “opal” are decidedly lonely, a longing gaze out of a window.
syncope has had a relatively quiet rollout, but it’s already proving to be an integral component in the port st. willow canon. navigate away from the dimestore and immerse yourself in this beautiful piece of art.