With connections to past and current Houston bands (most notably Jessica Six), singer/guitarist Lance Walker, bassist Bret Shirley and drummer John Adams, who constitute Port Vale, are veterans of the scene. The anglophile Walker recently completed a UK tour to promote his electronic project, the White Papers.
Port Vale, which takes its name from a much-beloved if far-from-elite Staffordshire, England, football club, focuses on melodic indie rock. The new album shows a definite maturation and exploration of forms. The music, while still marvelously catchy, alternates between extremes of tempo and volume. Gone are the carefree, bouncy tunes that filled the EP Western Winds. Instead, the guitars have more substance, more angst, much more of a buildup.
"Hushed Singles," for example, is absolutely gorgeous with its extended intro, and there's a tremendous sense of release when it finally resolves into a steady bounce. Walker, at more of a whisper, switches in and out with the guitars, and for once, his atonal voice isn't such a bother. Likewise, "Roman Hands" is a mesmerizing tapestry of indie-pop goodness. "Regency" and "Young as Snow" are equally entertaining.
"Friday Night Lights" starts off at almost slo-core pace, accented by something that sounds like a glockenspiel, but then immediately "The Roof's Fell In!" follows, intermixing fast pop with quiet interludes. The hyped-up songs like "Kicking Tin" and "Sooner We'll Get Home" are great, but they don't seem to have the visceral impact of the slower ones.
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Walker rarely sings in tune, and at times his caterwauling seems better suited for a punk band. But there are plenty of indie bands with less-than- perfect vocals, and if one likes the music, then the singing can be tolerated.
Port Vale has earned a shot at more airplay on Houston radio. Despite the whiny-guy vocals, the songs are instantly likable and could score a goal or two in indie land.
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