On their debut full-length, Future’s Disguise, local indie-folk trio the Porters offer an artfully conceived take on the genre. Centered on songwriter Jordan Romm, the record features a wealth of high-brow musical ideas, as well as a star-studded array of guest instrumentalists who flesh out Romm’s ambitious tunes with grace and tact.
“Candles of Our Home” is gorgeously arranged and impeccably played chamber folk. Todd Porter’s cello and Rachel Smith’s violin attack and then release in a warm wash of pedal steel and mandolin — courtesy of Brett Lanier and mando ace Jamie Masefield, respectively. Due in large part to the efforts of multi-instrumentalist Jamie Bright, elegant composition is a hallmark of the record, which fuses folk-styled songwriting with classical structures. In their more fanciful moments, these players recall chamber-folk darlings Horse Feathers, or even Iron and Wine. However, Romm’s hesitant singing often detracts from the otherwise spectacular sonic architecture.
Romm is a strong lyricist and songwriter, but he seems to lack confidence in his vocal abilities, which leads to intonation problems and halting melodic phrases. He has a naturally pleasant voice and an obvious ear for melody. It’s a shame he doesn’t trust himself enough to more often deliver his thoughtful prose and pretty lines with conviction. Because, when he does, the results are stunning.
The title track is one such example. Strings and mandolin wind gently around Romm’s easy melody, nudged forward by Ryan Hayes’ sparse drum work. Tim Butterworth’s swelling accordion works in concert with Lanier’s steel to accent flowering vocal harmonies, leading to a sprightly string coda at the finish. It’s a fully realized and deftly executed song, offering a tantalizing glimpse of the Porters’ true potential when they harness all their considerable gifts.
There are other such moments to be found amid the record’s 11 tracks. “The Fair” is a touching ballad that captures the sweet innocence of young love. “Satan’s Ploy” features sinister string work that colors Romm’s clever wordplay and sets up the tune’s exultant finish. And the tender ballad “West Coast Relations” closes the album on a high note, featuring fragile harmonies and still more glorious strings.
Though frustrating at times, Future’s Disguise introduces a unique, ambitious talent in Jordan Romm. If he can consistently raise his performance to the level of his stellar supporting cast — as he does at times here — the Porters will become a thrilling addition to the vibrant local indie-folk scene.
The Porters celebrate the release of Future’s Disguise at the Monkey House this Saturday, January 22.