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Portastatic - Who Loves The Sun

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Artist: Portastatic

Album: Who Loves The Sun

Label: Merge

Review date: Jun. 27, 2006

The second in Mac MacCaughan's soundtrack projects – like its predecessor, composed for an indie film by Matt Bissonette – is beautifully low-key, leaning heavily on orchestra instruments like oboe and strings to create fleeting moods. It is about as far from Superchunk, or even full-band Portastatic, as you can get, skipping the vocals and using guitars only occasionally.

It's difficult to judge a soundtrack without seeing the film. Most of the cuts feel like incidental music, intended more to sustain the film's atmosphere than to be heard on their own. While these compositions can be quite pretty, they lack the freestanding structure of independent songs. Still, even without knowing much about the plot, you can imagine emotional ups and downs supported by these short bits of music. "Will's Return" is all heart-felt cello, for instance, "Maggie at the Dock" a brooding concoction of oboe and strings, and "Nice One" full of uneasy optimism in its flute and bass duet. These pieces are soft, receding, but intermittently gorgeous.

The longer cuts come closer to song, to lesser effect. "Lively Chase" starts in rock, all crunching guitars and drum set, but where you expect words, an oboe picks up a New Age melody. "Tremolo Chase” features (obviously) tremolo'd stabs of guitar and four-four drumming, but would seem destined for b-side status if this was a standard Portastatic album. Far better are the longer pieces that are allowed to hover in a classical / easy listening territory. "Snake Music" is a moody meander through the piano's darkest keys, while "Stretch Waltz," is all light and shadows in its medley of string and oboe tones.

On the stereo, Who Loves the Sun is almost too pretty, coming perilously close to that "beautiful music" vibe popular in dentists' waiting rooms. But if you try, you can imagine it working just fine underscoring small epiphanies with subtle, lovely changes in mood.

By Jennifer Kelly

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