Chris Porterfield, a guy with endless creativity in the word department, needs to buckle down and conjure up an album title one of these days. So far, his post-DeYarmond Edison discography (the band he and Justin Vernon used to be in) consists of three self-titled records over the span of two band names, plus a Conrad Plymouth demo collection called Comrade Plymouth. Porterfield has also borrowed heavily from his back catalog for his debut full-length under the Field Report moniker, albeit with good reason: This release will reach more people than any of his previous work, and more people ought to hear these songs.
The obvious tag for Field Report is folk-rock—easily the genre Wisconsin is currently most successful at—and longtime fans will be instantly rewarded with the inclusion of a beloved Conrad Plymouth tune. “Fergus Falls” has always been the ultimate expression of Porterfield’s greatest gift; it’s hard to say what the story is about, but the words and melody and the way they’re sung evoke universal human pain and yearning. It’s transposed from its original version into a lower key, making it now almost impossible not to sing along to, a stirring performance that sets a high precedent for the album.
All of the older songs are significantly improved. “Incommunicado” manages to be more subdued than the demo version, but what it loses in intimacy it makes up for in a lush arrangement that brings the core melody to the fore. “I Am Not Waiting Anymore” is slowed down, and Porterfield’s singing is far more convincing when he can linger a bit on the defiant lyrics. “Circle Drive” is pure John Prine, heartbreaking poetry sung by the only voice that could fit it. When Porterfield’s voice trails off in a whisper, he inspires despondency—when it swells to a roar, elation, but there’s always an unshakeable undercurrent of dissatisfaction or depression that staves off a smile.
Standout new songs “The Year Of The Get You Alone” and “Chico The American” begin softly, but they foreshadow a massive swell of intensity that’s surely coming; their brilliance lies in their restraint, foregoing the big loud wallop that would be so easy to whip out. Once they become familiar, there’s still that thrill of a powerful charge rippling through them but never becoming kinetic, and both songs compare favorably to Yo La Tengo circa-2000 in terms of gorgeous, quiet tension. “Captain Video” comes closest to a release with its cymbal/piano pounding after a tender, harmonious tune, but ultimately there’s no gladness or resolution involved in Field Report—the only joy comes from surviving the overbearing adversity. Even as the final song fades into a gentle haze of dissonance, the subconscious braces for the next blow.