Music Reviews

Portrait People Hallow

(self-released) Rating - 7/10

Over my last year at No Ripcord, I’ve written a lot about one of my favorite types of album: the autumn release. An autumn release doesn’t refer to an album that dropped in a specific month or a genre of music, but the sonic state of mind that’s akin to the feeling of wanting to just curl up in bed all day. Last year, Wilco captured this sensation with Ode to Joy, a release which soundtracked last October perfectly, while Phoebe Bridgers did the same in June with Punisher, a release of atmospherics and small details. The newest addition to the trend is Hallow, the debut LP from Pittsburgh project Portrait People. It’s the sort of album that combines muted folk tendencies with explosive emo choruses, creating songs that are made for a walk in the park over fallen leaves.

Portrait People started as lead singer Nic Temple’s solo endeavor. Since then, the project has blossomed into a full band over the past few years, bringing along bandmates from String Machine (Temple’s other project). While the other band, led by Portrait People bassist Dave Beck, leans towards rustic folk and twee sensibilities (their 2019 release, Death of the Neon, is also appropriate for this season), Hallow is an album bursting with the most appealing kind of angst. The mixing by Sean Cho allows chunkier rock guitars to feel comfortable side-by-side with trembling acoustics and piano touches, while Temple’s songcraft feels well-fleshed out even if some of the lyrics don’t.

Despite falling comfortably under the vague term of indie rock, the sonic diversity and tonal cohesion on Hallow is genuinely surprising. On the closer Exit (Through the Sun), acrobatic lead guitar parts and start-stop drum work anchor the album’s catchiest song. Jasper opens with a riff that would be suited for a new Into It. Over It. song, before ending the song with Temple’s most aggressive howl. The song meanders but never loses speed, feeling chilly and divorced from the early warmth of I Got It or Sulfur. With the album’s most aggressive moment, Pinholes, the guitars shine through but Temple’s strained falsetto feels stressful to listen to here.

One of the strongest qualities of Hallow is how these songs sound next to each other. These aren’t forgettable tracks, but they play into each other so much, almost to the point where it’s hard to see where Darkroom 419 stops and Little Light begins. With most albums, this could be a negative, but the hooks here are incredibly memorable. I Got It is direct and striking, but closes with the plea of “Come back" over and over again, creating one of the album’s best moments. The falsetto harmonies on Sulfur (“I couldn’t help, couldn’t help, couldn’t help myself”) add to the album’s lightest song. It’s no wonder that this was the album’s lead single, considering it’s already complete with handclaps on the chorus, but it also contains Temple’s finest lyrics. When he sings “And when Iʼm in, Iʼm thinking that I want out” on the final chorus, it feels like the obvious highlight of an already very good album. Even with an odd and juvenile lyrical fixation on the sun, the majority of Hallow feels like an album bursting with life. Something familiar, comfortable, and warm to sit with as we wait out the remaining months of 2020.