Port Erin - I'll be on the Common
They might be named after a town on the ‘Lonely Isle’ of Man, but Port Erin kick off ‘I’ll Be On The Common’ in a seemingly deliberate attempt to quash that association. Starting at one place and ending at a completely different one, streetwise bass and ubiquitous drums take listeners on a journey through urban, ska-inspired alleyways before wielding to pastures gentle and melodic in surrender to their Manx namesake. If you were to close your eyes, the opening tracks of the trio’s debut might take you to the lonely pavements of a dirty concrete jungle in the middle of a drizzly night. Edgy and atmospheric and maybe even a little uncomfortable, you’d never guess that the same band came up with the warm summery tunes that the album concludes with.
The quirky ‘Sweet Maxine and the Christmas Birdy’ gets things rolling, setting the subtly manic tone that touches the first three or four tracks. ‘Tell Me Where The Party’s At!’ is a chaotic affair - its unorganised arrangement affected with a tinny, metallic quality that betrays the band’s low budget. The frenzy of clanging calms for ‘Life Pretender’, which offers a bit more melody and a bit less clatter without losing that distinctive air of the uncanny.
By the time you get to the fourth track, ‘Life Pretender’, lead singer Reuben Tyghe’s voice will either endear itself to you, or be hard at work gnawing on your nerves. Its drone is at times reminiscent of Thom Yorke or Richard Ashcroft and if The Verve, Elbow or Snow Patrol’s your thing, you’ll get it. If not, you might find it whiny and irritating, but if that is the case the backing instrumentals might redeem the band. If you remember The Zutons’ first album, you may well find ‘Who Killed… The Zutons?’ on the tip of your tongue; the playful lunacy, vocal quality and song structures (consider Port Erin’s ‘Funny People’ and ‘Zuton Fever’) resulting in similar sounds. Instrumentally, The Dead 60s spring to mind, particularly the dub rhythms and jangly beats that conjure up essence of fast food, the hum of traffic and layer of litter that adorn British cities.
The imaginatively named ‘Untitled’ marks the album’s departure from grimy townscapes and paints the first brushstrokes of sun, blue skies and swaying grass of the Common. Port Erin allows us to relax and let their newly controlled harmonies wash over us as the latter tracks evolve much more naturally than the slightly contrived opening efforts. ‘The Wounds’ is a beautifully gentle meander through soothing strings, mellow percussion and ethereal backing vocals; definitely the better crafted and produced recording of the album.
‘I’ll Be On The Common’ certainly has some note worthy tracks, but there is an overall feeling that Port Erin are yet to find their musical direction, which is understandable for a first album. The variety of styles that their debut harbours is testament to their versatility no doubt, but the band seems unsettled; are they ska? Are they a noisy garage experiment? They have the potential to drift into the mainstream - ‘Funny People’ sounds like a commercially viable song until the band turn it into obscurity. ‘I’ll Be On The Common’ is an album perhaps made for the band rather than the listener, but provides a fantastic showcase of the trio’s talent from which both listener and musician can learn. The final tracks alone are worth an entire album of self-discovery and mayhem.