It’s been a long, bumpy journey for Chris Porterfield. Watching his former bandmates in DeYarmond Edison attain success with Bon Iver and Megafaun couldn’t have been easy for him, yet he’s managed to release one of the better albums of the year as Field Report.
Having written and performed some of the songs as Conrad Plymouth, Porterfield recorded the album late last year at Justin Vernon’s studio in Wisconsin, many of the songs on this album channel the personal struggles that Porterfield has gone through since his original outfit broke up. The result is 10 songs of lyrical brilliance that will have music listeners giving Porterfield the credit that’s long overdue.
There’s something beautiful about the haunting simplicity that goes along a guy singing over a soft folky sound that is reminiscent of Graceland-era Paul Simon, or Wye Oak. Album opener “Fergus Falls” sets the tone for the isolation and emotional detachment that makes up most of the narrative on the album. Porterfield carefully crafts his verses without wasting a single word. An example is this is when he sings:
“I was concealing his kid under his crewneck stateschool sweatshirt while he grinned off in the distance behind prescription shades that were blocking out the clouded out sun while he as hoping against a daughter and no one saw my banners, my bruises, my flares, my flags.”
Someone could mistakenly hear this and think ‘what is he rambling about?’ but you shouldn’t. Porterfield makes the mundane romantic, which is the sign of a gifted lyricist. The twangy fiddle along with delicate guitar plucking and soothing background vocals sets the tone and gradually builds throughout the song, which allows Porterfield’s voice to rightfully shine.
Another standout is “Taking Alcatraz,” where he sings about Richard Oakes’ 1969 occupation of Alcatraz. Set well before the current Occupy movement, his words are sharper and talk of an era that seems to be a distant memory in American history. “And if I die here, well at least I made a choice," he sings as someone whose decision has been and willing to deal with the consequences. Whether it’s meant to reflect the struggles of the subject or if you look a little bit deeper, his own personal prison, Porterfield is one of the rare lyricists whose symbolism becomes bigger than the song itself.
On album full of stories and tales that culls from his personal experiences and subjects he’s observed, Porterfield shows that he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as his famous former bandmates. Though at a point he never thought he’d be playing music again, Porterfield proves that sometimes even the best laid plans can a take while to reach formation, but when they do, it’s well worth the wait.