“Flares was the debut album from Genoa post-rock quintet port-royal. The album was initially released in 2005 by the quality-minded UK indie label Resonant Recordings. “Flares” has become a watermark of the more contemporary amalgam of ambient, electronica and post-rock. And, is considered a classic of the genre. Spintink Music stylistically name-dropped Eno and Explosions in the Sky when describing “Flares”. Tiny Mix Tapes commented that Flares “reveal(s) moments of undeniable brilliance.” and Exclaim! remarked, “this music is both inherently simple while being intricately complex and deserves to be placed in your stereo.” “Intoxicating,” “rewarding,” and “masterpiece” are just some of the adjectives used to describe Flares upon its release. To commemorate the album’s 15th anniversary, port-royal have teamed up with their current partner of ten years, the Oakland based n5MD, to bring you Flares on vinyl for the first time.”
port-royal are one of those bands that have somewhat alluded me. Aside from a few compilation tracks this is the first time I have really had a chance to check out their work and what better way than a remastered version of their 2005 debut “Flares”, an album that it seems has had a very big impact upon those that have been inspired by it. “Flares” was originally released March, 2005 on the late great Resonant label and sees a release on n5MD the home to their last handful of releases, with the last “You Ware Nowhere [Remixes]” coming out in 2015. “Flares” keeps the same track order as the original album and splits it onto two pieces of 180 gram transparent blue vinyl. The music is very much like the artists mentioned above and Scottish legends Mogwai, but also has it’s own touch to it. Listening to this album you couldn’t be fooled into thinking your listening to another band. The album has two trilogies on it with “Zobione” and “Flares” each having three parts, but it is not just a case of two main tracks with other tracks filling up the rest of the album. From the outset with “Jeka” you straight away know that you are not going to find a typical sounding record as it teases you in with motifs that will be fully explored through out the album. With “Spetsnaz/Paul Leni” you are literally taken on a journey that is one part post rock, one part electronic. Sometimes when genres are combined within a piece it can have a bolted on feeling or one where the parts don’t mesh well together. I was listening to this piece while occupied and I assumed that it had moved from one track to another because of the easily flowing nature. In this one track it shows just how versatile the band are and the influences that they bring into their pieces.
The feeling I get with port-royal is that they are electronic musicians who use guitars, while say Mogwai sound the opposite. There is a real electronic feel to their music as if they are filtering everything through this prism of sound. To me this is what gives them their distinct sound. It is not that they are any less accomplished when they strap on the guitars,but there is a different aesthetic in play which comes across in the way that the pieces sound and are constructed. “Zobione Pt. 2” is probably the most defined style of theirs that I am trying to allude to here. It shimmers, builds up and travels through different stylistic terrain and shows them to be very adept at looking at this Post-Rock/IDM mix in a different way. The tracks of the trilogy have their own individual style without it really being a case of Pt. 1 – the build up, Pt. 2 – the main track and Pt. 3 – the slow descent. There is a form of ambience that comes through that ties the pieces together (as well as a linkage between each piece), but each track occupies it’s own space and has it’s own feeling.
“Karola Bloch” might be the most diverse piece on the whole album with it opening with faint acoustic guitar, phone conversation recordings, light singing, before a very strong Mogwai-esque (possibly reminiscent of one of their remixes) feel and then an excursion through quite diverse electronic and ambient terrains. At times it feels like a remix or a piece that is reduced and then reconstructed on different equipment. It is the track that probably highlights the diversity and wide scale vision of the band. From this point we enter the title track trilogy which is opposite to the “Zobione” one as the band extend on their Post Rock/Math Rock/ Prog and Ambient styles to create three pieces that combine to be a engaging trio. The first two parts are definitely rooted in the guitar sphere with an emphasis on building dreamy atmospheric tensions which you can dive into, while the third part removes this dreaminess with explorations into electronica with a crunchy and glitchy counterpoint. In a way you feel (despite the fact that there was a remix collection of this album, “Flared Up Port-Royal Remixed”, Resonant, 2008) that the band are essentially remixing themselves as they go. With the final track on the album “Stimmung” I am reminded how I had an idea of what the band would probably sound like and how through out the album that thought has been dismantled piece by piece. After all, what is it? Is it Ambient?, Electronica? Modern Classical? Sound Art? – it is all this and then some. It further highlights the bands unique approach, which I guess if you were looking for a purer Post Rock album may leave you disappointed, but if you were looking for an album that pushes the boundaries, then you would do no better than “Flares”.
My overall opinion of the album is one that has not dated. The pieces are so diverse, either within each piece or in contrast to others, but the diversity of their music is what makes them both timeless and makes for an enjoyable listen as it feels like constantly new territory. There is a reason why this album has stood up from it’s release fifteen years ago and why it sounds so fresh and contemporary now. “Flares” is available on 180 Transparent blue double LP and Digital from March 27.