Priory - Priory
Record Label: Expunged Records
Release Date: June 21st, 2011
At the expense of simmering tempers and conflicting views, chances are that countless times we've all seen the same conversation recited as to what is controversially deemed more important when it comes to the art of making and finding enjoyment out of music. Some will argue that without luscious soundscapes of instrumentation, music somewhat loses its power and conviction. Others lose interest when a record doesn't have signature hooks, irresistible choruses, powerchords and an abundance of melodies. Then there are some that require thoughtfully constructed lyrics that are glazed with sincerity and candidness; lyrics that blossom artistically to paint the vivid imagery of storytelling. Keeping the aforementioned directly in mind, Portland Oregon based quartet, Priory may not have the catchiest hooks or melodies that propel themselves to unreachable heights, but their lyrics are compelling, their music is a charming and delicate composition of indie folk/pop and elements of playful electronics, and there's also an unmistakable feeling of vulnerability, tenderness and reflection that gives this debut a sense of melancholy, stability and balance.
Beginning with nothing more than elegant and intimate guitar strumming, "Kings Of Troy" showcases Priory's eclectic nature and underlying musical direction. There are multiple cases of high rising falsetto notes from Kyle Dieker that soar and cascade together seamlessly in order to manufacture and produce enchanting and equally unforgettable harmonies. Lyrically it's quite open to individual interpretation and encourages freedom of exploration, but despite the light-hearted instrumentation and simplicity of the arrangements, the poetry-like vibe within the lyrics combines adequately with synth flourishes to become more than enough for listens to gravitate towards. "Lady Of Late" serves to be arguably the catchiest number on the release with its frequent use of harmonica and pulsating machine driven drumbeats. The beauty behind the track itself is in its haunting, dark and graceful atmosphere that it's able to conjure, as lead vocalist Brandon Johnson sings solemnly whilst being accompanied by a gorgeously mesmerizing, lullaby inducing electric guitar, "Just a sinner, I was lost at sea / and I, I heard you calling, it was calling to me / so I went ashore to never be seen again".
As the record drifts onwards it becomes noticeable how the band appear to find comfort and enjoyment from delivering simplistic melodies that are automatically identifiable and radiating with youthful innocence. It's almost as though Priory have perfected the art of intertwining light, breezy and childhood melodies with subject manners that are slightly more dark and sinister in order to create and convey a surreal and melancholy landscape. "Cold Hands" for instance, is a predominantly slow-tempo oriented five minute spectacle that hints at haunting ambiance as the lyrical theme revolves around the tale of a young loving couple dying with their hands held defiantly and tightly together as they gradually feel the heat turn to permanent coldness. Likewise, "Coal Mine" evokes vivid images of an individual who appears trapped and isolated with only critical self-assessments and a waveringly fragile and erratic mindset as the only semblance of company buried in that coalmine as air continues to thin. Both dark, gripping and captivating themes, but the atmosphere rarely transcends into utmost negativity and gloominess due to the glistening major key melodies and triple layered harmonies that are frequently present throughout the contemplative duration of Priory's self-titled debut release.
If you wanted a four minute track that best exemplifies exactly who this band is and what they're trying to achieve, you needn't look much further than the stunning, "White Coats". It opens cheerfully with a prominent xylophone and what appears to be a glockenspiel but like a compelling illusion, the track soon transforms and twists itself in a darker direction with every new instrument played, vocal layer sung, and verse completed. What seemingly started as a quiet and unassuming track suddenly gains tremendous power and momentum as instruments all pile on top of one another frenetically. And as lyrics are repeated steadily it all culminates in the song becoming more paranoiac and unsettling by the second. "So don't you worry about the white coats / when you're lying in your bedroom / just try to get some sleep" are the final words able to be deciphered before everything immediately is rendered inaudible. Album highlight, "Alone" has a distinctly enduring roaming restlessness surrounding it that causes it to stand out from anything you'll hear and find elsewhere on the record. It's a direction that I certainly wouldn't mind the band exploring and experimenting with in future releases for it has a beautifully melodic and undeniably hook-laden opening verse that showcases Johnson's vocal prowess to superb effect. There are handclaps, tambourines and delicately delivered, high rising backing vocals that assist in generating and capturing perhaps the most memorable, finest and striking moment Priory has ever yet created.
However, as with any debut release, there are several missteps and flaws that too need to be addressed and mentioned. One of the biggest criticisms I found is the inability for the opening track to convince you to keep listening. In essence, it's a two minute track that meanders along atmospherically and unconvincingly without purpose or direction. When you're a new and previously unheard band vying for the attention and affection of listeners, an album opener such as this certainly won't help many potential causes. Disappointingly, they also make the same mistake by closing the album in much the same fashion. It all feels kind of needless and it takes away from the overall cohesiveness the band had managed to tirelessly and painstakingly build in the previous ten tracks. Alas, focusing for too long upon negatives would be doing the band and record a terrible disservice and injustice. Slight negatives certainly shouldn't detract from what is a wonderful and compelling debut release full of introspection and the seamless balance between warm folk tunes, pop sensibilities, dark lyrical textures and classy touches of electronic synthesizer thrown in for good measure.