July 13, 2003

Porter Harp "Drinking Season"

I love the fact that bands and sounds are currently mutating. What was oh-so boring and cliche yesterday might just mutate into something quite interesting tomorrow. Case in point: Pavement were considered knock-offs of the Fall. Does anyone think about that when they hear "Stereo"? See, after time, they created their own sound, and nobody--save for the tragically hip--really thinks of them as Fall imitators. In that sense, Porter Harp is a man who has taken his love of bands such as Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, and he doesn't really hide that fact on his debut album, Drinking Season.

Drinking Season owes much to the 1970, and Harp's music is very much in tune with West Coast beach-bum singer-songwriter fare. At times, I swear that Harp's vocal style is quite close to that of James Taylor--albeit a good James Taylor. Of course, it's hard not to think of California, considering that he covers Neil Young's classic "Old Man." Harp is cross-pollinating two musical styles that you wouldn't normally consider--1970s Southern California singer-songwriter pop and the more modern sound of classic indie-rock, and as bland as that might sound, Harp actually does it quite well. The combination of booze, travel, despair, the devil, and producer Phil Ek actually comes together quite well. All of the songs on Drinking Season have a darkness to them, tempered with an epic quality that indeed hasn't been seen since 1976. At times I couldn't help but think of Blue Oyster Cult.

Drinking Season is a fine, fine debut. While occasionally the album suffers from overt stylistic similarity, it's really not much of a problem, because all of the songs are excellent--especially "I Wish You Well," "Cary," and a cover of Steve Earle's "S. Nashville Blues." I'm sure that, given time, Harp and company will hone down their skills, and will, in time, produce one killer album. Like Built to Spill, whose Ultimate Alternative Wavers was a good record that was occasionally top-heavy, I'm hoping that when it comes time for that second album, Porter Harp will pull it all together and produce one helluva album. A fine album.

--Joseph Kyle

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