Porcelain People – Streetlights
The thirteen song debut from Louisiana based electro pop duo Porcelain People likely heralds the arrival of a major new creative voice in the genre. On the basis of this debut alone, Josh Thornhill and Fred Kalil can credibly assert that they stand among the vanguard of this popular hybrid genre. The merger of pop music with electronic textures has often, in the past, resulted in rather sterile and mechanical sounding productions with serviceable singers and a dearth of memorable melodies. Porcelain People, however, avoid any such failings on Streetlights and instead offer listeners electronica supported grandeur quite unlike anyone will suspect going into this work. The dual strengths of the unit, as presented here, are Josh Thornhill’s exceptionally flexible vocals and the highly dramatic nature of their songwriting. It is framed with clear and precise production that belies its indie origins.
“Streetlights” opens things in beautifully melodic fashion. The thrust of the duo’s songwriting is, essentially, quite simple. It gains its power, however, primarily through their sharp understanding of dynamics. “Streetlights” conclusively proves they know how to build a song for maximum dramatic effect. There are a handful of minor crescendos thrown into the mix as the song gradually comes together and comes to a stirring conclusion. “Vital” has every bit as much of the same spirit. The architecture of Porcelain People’s songs are impressively solid because they rely on fundamentals ripped straight from page one of Songwriting 101. Perhaps some readers might say, well, if these are such simple lessons, all bands and units serve up such treats. This isn’t so. The directness and accessibility of Porcelain People is rare and all the more remarkable for how obvious it seems to follow this direction.
“Start It Over” starts the album over essentially. The percussion bears no resemblance at all to the electronic pulse guiding the opening songs. Instead, it sounds ripped from some rhythm track on a Tom Waits album and the inclusion of guest singer Stormie Edwards transforms this song into a gloriously weird bluesy hybrid of its own quite unlike anything else on Streetlights. The stylistic turns keep coming with “Harlequin”, a carefully constructed art pop track heavy on the atmospherics and appropriately moody. Thornhill’s voice reaches a particularly evocative pitch on this song and strengthens the track’s atmospheric qualities. “Beating Hearts”, featuring another guest turn from Jimmie Bryant, is probably the closest Streetlights comes to an outright mainstream pop love song. The electronica is heavy but never obscures the song’s yearning melodic qualities.
“Help Me Know” skirts similar territory, but it sounds much more personal for some reason than the aforementioned song and the lyrics work with a even stronger melody to make the performance, ultimately, much more affecting. “Lullaby” has all of the qualities one might expect given the title, but it isn’t ever overly sentimental or cheaply presented. Thornhill delivers a final heart-rending vocal and the same melodic strengths lighting the preceding dozen songs finds expression here as well. Streetlights has impressive quality spanning its entire length and the lulls are barely perceptible. To emerge on a debut with such fully formed musical vision and a wealth of top shelf material bodes well for the duo’s future and any listener smart enough to continue following them from here.
9 out of 10 songs.