ALBUM REVIEW: Joel Porter Reflects On Duality & Human Complexities On ‘A Costly Collection’

“I am not just ‘one thing’… but rather a spectrum of many things… and within that spectrum lives duality.”

This is what folk singer-songwriter Joel Porter had to say about his brand new album, A Costly Collection, which dropped August 25th.

Upon its release, listeners were met with an intimate, soaring piece of art that encapsulates the feeling of being human through its beautifully arranged instrumentals, tactful melodies, and confessionally explorative lyrics. 

The album’s title aptly reflects its nature—a true collection of thoughts, emotions, and contemplations of life and the world we live in. Porter dives into the depths of his own heart and mind, and he emerges with a refreshed understanding of who he is and what that means to him. 

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“A Costly Collection”

Produced by Eric Hillman (Foreign Fields), mixed by Zach Hanson (Bon Iver, S. Carey), and mastered by Taylor Deupree (Ryuichi Sakamoto), A Costly Collection is chock full of unique talents that intersect to create an expansive listening experience reminiscent of classics like Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell.

The album opens delicately with the title track, a quietly honest ode to both what it takes to create art and what it takes to be a person. Through its simple yet beautiful instrumentals and powerful lyrics, Porter expresses the feeling of longing that comes with self-discovery and self-acceptance. The track is filled with simple lines that pack a punch: “I’m in the hickory kitchen / Wiping the rain from your eyes,” and “I am the sum of my time here,” which sets the tone for the music to come.

“Little Tooth”

Following the rawness of the album’s opener, the second track, “Bad Habits,” is a catchy, groovy tale of self-doubt, regret, and, you guessed it- bad habits. Resonating lyrics like, “A plastic lie I tell myself / Someday I’ll be someone else,” and “Another day spent in the seams of old duvets and magazines / I go missing to the comforts of my daydreams,” populate the song, and Porter manages to strike a balance between three very different ideas: upbeat and rhythmic instrumentals, soaring string melodies, and authentically introspective lyrics. 

Perhaps the strongest track on the record, at least lyrically, is Porter’s January single, “Little Tooth,” a song that can truly be described as beautiful. From its soft vocals and skillfully crafted lyrics to its dynamic and ever-changing harmonies, the listener is immediately enveloped in a peaceful, unique, visual world. The very first line, “To the willow where we started / Strung on humid air and evening dew / Where the wind and linen wander,” is packed with imagery of a stunning summer day, and these images are cohesively present throughout the rest of the song. 

A Costly Collection

The album’s seventh track, “Godsend,” carries something extremely charming in its softness; there are no frills, no wildly daring vocal, instrumental or production choices, yet every moment of the song is captivating, relatable, and just generally good. The sweet-yet-haunting piano melody carries deep emotion throughout the song, and very honest lyrics like “And I know I need some help / I need some help / I need something,” render this tune ideal for the rock-bottom scene in the climax of a movie. 

The album’s final track is a calming culmination, the perfect bookend to an extremely cohesive record. “Hills” contains a beautifully long outro, almost-distant vocals, and sweet lyrics that reassure the listener that despite the challenges of life, love, loss, and self-discovery, it will all find a way to be alright in the end.

Joel Porter // Photo by Chris Haggerty

Featured photo by Nicola Harger

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