REVIEW: Zack Stefanski – “Portrait”

Zack Stefanski

You might not know the name Zack Stefanski, but you really ought to change that. One of the guitarists and vocalists in Ed Monk, Stefanski has a deft ear for a hook and a melody, that sort of sleepy indie pop that seems to float in as if on a breeze, but that stays with you like a good memory. Last December, Stefanski quietly dropped Portrait, to my knowledge is his first solo album, and certainly a lateral move to his work with Ed Monk. Here, Stefanski trades on that kind of tonal richness that would make Deerhunter or Grizzly Bear blush, that kind of lush approach to accessible indie pop that feels more at home alongside Steely Dan or Michael McDonald than anything contemporary.

Taken as a whole, Portrait is just that, a cohesive statement by Stefanski that remains remarkably steadfast in it’s vision. This is all to say that the tracks all fit together like an immaculate jigsaw puzzle as one texture, a snapshot in time. Aptly named, Portrait is more than just a collection of those songs, but a complete package. Tracks like The Pulpit or A Pair of Portraits stand out with a solid rhythm section, sparse guitar work, and a Beach Boys vocal sensibility. That choral approach to vocals is replicated taken to it’s most extreme on Gertrude (The Owl Room), which sees Stefanski stripped down to his most bare, with an a capella track that shuns entirely instrumentation for an intimate and nostalgic narrative that never feels saccharine or unearned. Album closer Gone is the Time showcases Stefanski’s talent as a multi-instrumentalist without ever sacrificing any of the restraint built throughout the album. 
The fact that this was released to so little fanfare is criminal. What Stefanski has accomplished is pure pop magic, that kind of thing where every single cylinder is firing at full efficiency. Each track is fully realized and well considered. No instrument is ever privileged over the other, save for the predilection to showcase Stefanski’s airy croon, which he blends seamlessly into the fold. The aforementioned restraint is a study in subtlety and tension, the sort of coiled calm that usually comes with years of experience. While I can’t speak to that, I can speak to the care put into the craft here, which results in an imminently listenable album from start to finish, one that merits repeat listens and deeper consideration.
Listen below and support amazing art whenever you can.