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port-royal – Where Are You Now

A blanket of swirling ambiance launches the new port-royal album. It’s a familiar mist of shimmering atmospherics, like the dry ice that gets pumped on stage before a band walks out.

It is what port-royal do.

Then, from nowhere, a dancefloor stomper lurches forth. Way to wrong-foot the listener, port-royal. We’re only in the opening minutes of track one! Like a beautiful model tripping through the catwalk entrance, ‘Death Of A Manifesto’ wasn’t quite what I expected. The ensuing album is perfectly fine but you never quite shake that unsettled feeling forged at the onset.

Where Are You Now is the first ‘proper’ port-royal album in six years. (2011’s Golden Age of Consumerism was only a rarities compilation. I say “only”, but actually there was no ‘only’ about it. That collection had more ideas, more ‘wow’ moments than many bands manage in their whole career.) I’ll admit to a silly passing thought about the sleeve art. Having followed their career since the very beginning (“Fireworks on a Rothko horizon” – Flares album review) I do feel somewhat vested in the Italians. That Astronauts glove design coupled with the title almost feels like a message to me. It isn’t, obviously but let’s turn the question around. Let’s ask, where are port-royal now? What are their aims and objectives? Around Flares I believed port-royal to be the perfect chillout act. I planned to buy a bar/club in Ibiza, invite them and make my 6AM fortune. The Royals had other ideas. 2007’s Afraid To Dance hinted at a willingness to join the the night’s main event. Dying In Time really nailed that further with a Giorgio Moroder, disco feel. Ten years on from their debut album do they still want to be Mogwai or William Orbit? What does the 2015 vintage have to offer?

Several listens in I’m still not sure. The latest record seems to draw from all aspects of the Royals career to date. It is ambitious in scope and scale. One might even say sprawling. There are ambient pieces – some sound ominous, others pretty. There are the dance music archetypes such as Trance and House. There are even pieces within pieces. Exhibit One: ‘Alma M.’. If ever a track summed up the n5MD label, it is surely this one. It’s as though the Royals listened to the entire roster’s back catalogue and tried to encapsulate that into one, evolving, genre-spanning, IDM track. That said, ‘The Last Big Impezzo’ is clearly the albums cornerstone, an epic set-piece managing to blend signature port-royal with a weight and power perhaps more associated with contemporaries Lights Out Asia. Half way through we even stop off at Brotherhood era New Order. Yet no matter which direction this track is headed, whether we’re looking forward, backward or sideways, familiar port-royal melodies flicker around us like a 360° cloud of butterflies.

It’s hard to feel one way about Where Are You Now as it encapsulates so much. Like Rothko the brushstrokes remain broad, deep and heartfelt. The difference this time is that the Royals aren’t just painting horizons anymore. Where Are You Now contains ‘Rothko’ portraits and ‘Rothko’ still-life’s as well as those familiar abstracted landscapes. This is an album of big moments, small moments and moments in-between. It took me a while to crack it but I have grown to appreciate the scale of Where Are You Now. I’m just not yet convinced it hangs together particularly coherently as an album. The whole journey takes in so many different sights that the effect is a little disorienting. What’s its identity? The earlier question remains: Where are they now?.

What sights though! What moments. As someone who has hyped the Royals in the past I must give a special mention to ‘The Man Who Stole The Hype’. This, dear reader, is a track of bona fide genius. It more than merits the admission price alone.

Where Are You Now is out now on the n5MD label.

Artist at n5MD

The Golden Age Of Consumerism