Album Review – “Syncope” by Port St. Willow

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Words – Donovan Farley

Syncope, the atmospheric and haunting new record from Brooklyn’s Port St. Willow, wastes no time setting the mood for the cosmic musical tale that is about to unravel. By the time the loose, improvised-feeling swirl of jazzy drums, bubbling synths, forlorn horns and languid pacing of “Ume” flows effortlessly into lead single “Ordinary Pleasure” (which features The Antlers’ Peter Silbermen) it’s hard not to be transfixed. That feeling — which is not unlike an exotic woman leading you into a foreboding, otherworldly opium den — permeates Syncope, a work which Port St. Willow mastermind Nicholas Principe intends to be heard as one long, continuous piece of music (much like his debut Holiday was). The resulting record is a cinematic listen, and one whose pulsating, dramatic sweep are positively enthralling.

I first heard Nicholas Principe’s haunting music while living in New York City, and walking those city streets in late fall, his gorgeous falsetto paired with such moody music seemed the perfect eulogy for the city’s dying autumn. That’s not to say that Port St. Willow evokes only sadness, quite the contrary — although forlorn, there also lies a beautiful wistfullness inside of these songs, like you’re remembering a lost love bittersweetly. There is a cosmic beauty to these emotions Principe seems to be working through, and they are harnessed wonderfully throughout Syncope.

Principe and co-producer Victor Nash (who recorded the Syncope here in Portland at DESTINATION: EARTH!) deserve praise for the album’s pacing and restraint, as although Syncope is a slow march of a record, it’s never a boring one. Ornate, haunting and masterfully arranged, Syncope is a gorgeous record from start to finish, and one of the year’s best releases. This record’s heart may be broken, but it’s head remains in the stars.

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