Porcelain People – Streetlights

Streetlights, the thirteen song debut from Louisiana based electro pop duo Porcelain People is one of 2016’s most vibrant releases. While many modern bands or duos attempt the same synthesis of pop and electronica sounds, there are none who immediately leap to mind capable of bringing off that stylistic combination with the same fluidity and flair as Porcelain People.

Songwriting on such albums can rightly be accused to being enamored more with technology over melody, but no such charge can be levied against Porcelain People. Instead, Josh Thornhill and his songwriting partner Fred Kalil are sharing a collection awash in melodies and capable of transporting listeners in the most magical of ways and without even noticing. These sort of genre experiments that come off so well always have a whiff of magic surrounding them and Streetlights is no exception. Melody and inspiration alike help it soar.

They have a touch of the storyteller as songwriters. Streetlights opens the album in a memorable big screen way that does an unexpectedly remarkable job of setting up the rest of the release. It is certainly traditional that a recorded work’s title song somehow encompasses the dominant qualities of a release, give grandest treatment to its themes, and somehow make the deepest impression. There’s no mistaking, however, that the duo far from exhausts themselves artistically on the first song.

The album’s second cut, Vital, has an almost anthemic quality that Thornhill’s superb singing exploits well. The cinematic qualities powering much of the title song continue here and earn a further elaboration than on the preceding song.

Streetlights takes an unusual turn on the third song. Start It Over has percussion reminiscent of an early 1990’s Tom Waits album and it’s a sharp juxtaposition to place such self-consciously primal percussion against the almost classical melodic swirl summoned from piano, keyboards, and synthesizer lines. Harlequin moves away from that stance to a far more theatrically slanted, ambient frame and an appropriately emotive vocal from Thornhill.

Play In My Paradise is one of the album’s most likeable, radio ready efforts thanks to its sharply honed pop instincts and uplifting reggae tilt. Thornhill inhabits the song’s structure with unusual confidence considering not a single earlier song on the release prepares you for this tasty left turn.

Beating Hearts is the first song completely stripped of any percussion and floats past listeners on a dense cloud of color. These sorts of compositions often run the risk of self-indulgence thanks to the famously tight hold technology can exert over a musician’s imagination, but synthesizers and keyboards have a transformative effect in the hands of Porcelain People.

Kingdom is the only instrumental on Streetlights, but it’s one of the more subtly clever musical pieces that the duo turns their hand towards. There’s a bit of seamless musical sleight of hand in the song’s second half that raises it a few notches.

Help Me Know is a song full of rhythms rolling in a half stutter and quicksilver synthesizer notes dropping in and out of the mix. It has a gently yearning atmosphere with a dash of the melancholy added for extra measure, but Thornhill’s vocal emphasizes the yearning at the song’s heart. It’s one of the final outstanding gems placing Streetlights in a different camp than many similar releases. Porcelain People are far more than niche genre performers and have hints of talent substantial enough to revolutionize the genre.

9 out of 10 stars.

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