Key Track: “Be Okay”
Porch Cat, recording name of Chan Benicki, flows some current folk-punk icon influence into a unique, americana-based folk sound. On the new release, a split with JFKFC, Benicki and a rounded line-up of backing musicians make a beautiful blend of folk with hints of both elegance and existentialism. It has the charactericstics of folk – it’s all acoustic, a full sound, but one with a running and sometimes indescribable punk influence.
On the album’s first song, “Ballad for Winter,” Bernicki sings “Addicted to a substance / Delusion and distress / Addicted to the way / The heart beats in my chest.” The lyrics throughout the four songs are poetic and often vaguely distressful, dealing with physical and mental health, sleep, and making it through tough times. “Be Okay” ends with the repeated and reluctantly enthusiastic chant of “we’ll be okay,” before transitioning into “Living Art” and singing about trying not to sleep forever. “Belly Full of Fire” almost sounds like an Irish drinking song, with a drinking song vocal rhythm and a chorus about a whiskey-fueled belly of fire. It’s just as forcefully optimistic as “Be Okay,” a kind of optimism that doesn’t sound certain. The EP’s lyrics are hesitantly personal. They reflect what much of folk-punk has become – the sound of someone picking up a guitar and singing about what they know.
What doesn’t reflect that, though, is the music of the EP. Where folk-punk bands that emulate this nonchalant sound often have music that’s nothing more than a guitar attack, Benicki and the backing musicians add rhythms and a larger range of instruments. Besides vocals and guitar, Benicki is credited with accordion and – unexpected surprise – singing saw. Benicki is joined by Alex Fairweather on guitar, bass, drums, tambourine, mandolin, and vocals, Jordan Hamilton on banjo, bass and mouth harp, and Naomi Gibson on fiddle and vocals (along with some others on secret vocals, secret meows, and ‘tea making’). With a wide variety of instruments, they’re able to create more developed songs and a deeper sound than most folk groups. “Belly Full of Fire” gets further reinforcement as an Irish drinking song with use of a mandolin and fiddle. The band sounds the most full at the end of “Be Okay,” with group vocals, drums and a bunch of acoustic strumming. Porch Cat is a more musically folk group, a little refreshing to hear today.
So although it’s easy to compare Porch Cat to a more traditional folk-punk band, they really have a stronger indie-folk sound, masquerading as folk-punk. They have a more complete and balanced sound, one with rhythmic and vocal harmonies and a wider range of instruments. And Bernicki’s vocals are strong throughout, some sweet-sounding singer-songwriter vocals marked with the more defeated lyrics. The four songs here are a complete and successful package, emotional yet pleasant, with a full and unassuming folk background.
The four tracks are available for streaming and download as part of a split with JFKFC, a more directly folk-punk band that’s also quite worthy of your time. It can be found here.
-By Andrew McNally