The usual preconceived notions listeners come with when they encounter electronica influenced pop will not serve them well here. The debut release from the Monroe, Louisiana based duo Porcelain People overturns apple carts and confounds expectations. Josh Thornhill and Fred Kalil create living, breathing pop songs suffused with colorful strains of synth, keyboards, electric piano and lush with strong musical and vocal melodies. The album might seem, at first glance, to run a little long with thirteen tracks, but Porcelain People’s musical vision is as equally condensed as their configuration. There are no wasted notes or words and each of the twelve lyrically driven songs on Streetlights are supremely distinguished by the varied and entertaining singing performances vocalist Josh Thornhill marks them with. The production, for an indie act, is relatively amazing – they render this often dense, but never inert, music with superb clarity and balance between its separate components.
The duo starts things off with a grand title track that, for all intents and purposes, sets the table for the remainder of Streetlights. Many of the thirteen songs on this album create their positive impressions through the steady accumulation of musical detail and “Streetlights” is probably the best example of that. Likewise, Porcelain People should be credited for not simply settling for a canned drum sound so common to the genre. Instead, this song and many others are elevated by astutely produced synthesizer percussion that rarely sounds unnatural. The album’s second song “Vital” is rousing, a hook-laden confection with majestic qualities. The wall of swirling sound the duo conjures for this song is one of their most successful soundscapes on Streetlights, but marries that powerful sonic backdrop with Thornhill’s profoundly musical vocals.
The rough and tumble percussive opening for “Start It Over” strikes a marked contrast with the rest of the album. This is a simmering, near-explosive song that clangs and crashes from the first note on but never betrays its ultimate allegiance to melody. Stormie Edwards joins as a guest vocalist and her plaintive wail matches well with Thornhill’s voice. There’s a pensive romantic tenor guiding the duo’s performance and writing on the track “Beating Hearts”. It’s also introduces the album’s third and final musical guest, Jimmie Bryant, and his contributions to the song don’t reshape in quite the same way as Edwards’ contributions to “Start It Over”, but they have a positive effect nonetheless. “Feeling Like Falling” has a slowly developing rock stride that never goes quite all-out, but nonetheless pressures the listener from the beginning onward.
Streetlights’ penultimate tune, “Goodnight is Not Goodbye”, has a tempo with a noticeably circular roll and, as such, it is able to have an insistent feel without ever sounding too aggressive. Thornhill delivers another excellent performance whose chief quality is how he keeps a cool tone while still keeping things intimate, close to the bone. Everything on Streetlights bubbles just beneath the surface. This is an album of tremendous sensitivity composed and performed by two performers with obviously sympathetic energies. One of the year’s most interesting releases.
9 out of 10 stars.