With all this talk about the year’s best albums, it is time to focus on one album few if any people are talking about, but one that should most certainly be included in the honorable mention discussion. Said disc is the self-titled debut album from Portland, OR indie folk quartet Priory.
The disc opens with the ambient prologue, “Worthy Dreams,” which serves more as an opening salvo or an introductory stanza than a pop song. All that changes though on “Kings of Troy.” Beginning with a gentle acoustic guitar, the song moves into Arcade Fire-Fleet Foxes territory. Quite frankly, it’s as strong a song as any released this year and can easily contend as one of the year’s best. Crazily enough though, this self-titled album has quite a chunk of songs as strong as “Kings of Troy.”
Foremost of those is lead single “Lady of Late,” a synth-splashed opus about newfound love that’s as sweetly affecting and entrancing as anything currently circulating the blogosphere. If “Lady of Late,” doesn’t charm you, then Priory is not the band for you.
The amiable and stirring “Alone,” borrows its strength from some gleeful guitar work and vocalist’s inherent swagger. What often separates good bands from the lot of wannabes is a vocalist’s ability to put power and thought into every utterance and Priory’s Brandon Johnson does exactly that on “Alone.”
Acoustic guitar opens “Coal Mine,” the album’s first glance at filler. It’s not as if the song doesn’t make any major stances or grandiose statements, it just sort of goes nowhere and serves more as a bridge to “Searching,” the album’s first ballad and veritable proof that Priory is in a league all of themselves. Ostensibly a song about family dysfunction and adolescence, it’s the kind of song that only comes along once a decade.
“Devil Vs. Heater,” opens the album’s second half and does little to disappoint. While it’s not the album’s strongest song by any stretch, it’s another positive step forward and a good precursor to the gorgeous and timeless “Red Sun,” a tour-de-force that cements Priory’s status as something truly special.
The funereal “Cold Hands,” spins a narrative about a couple dying in a car crash and also points to the depths to which Priory go to tell a story. Nowhere on the album is there more depth, more clarity and more conviction. That “Cold Hands,” is so strong is actually a good thing because the album’s second piece of filler jumps in with the 4-minute exercise, “Wait,” a song which does very little.
The eponymous album ends with “White Coats,” a sterling and crystalline meditation that revisits the winning moments of “Kings of Troy,” and “Searching.” and “smearD yhtroW,” an epilogue that mirrors “Worthy Dreams,” in both title and sonic ambition. When all is said and done, Priory is a potent collection of first-rate indie folk. Aside from two mistakes (”Wait,” and “Coal Mine,”) there’s very little about the disc that isn’t worth listening to on repeat. That this is just their debut means that this folk collective has something truly special in store going forward.