REVIEW: Zack Stefanski – “Portland”

Zack Stefanski

Hot on the heels of Fancy Boy this last summer, singer songwriter Zack Stefanski is back with more dream pop goodness. There a sense of care that you can hear in Stefanski’s music as if every note and sound is exactly where it needs to be, something considered only after careful consideration. It came as a shock then, to see that he had so quickly dropped something new, at least given the scope and scale of his previous work. Would this be rushed? Would the production suffer? Is this a quick, comparably punk outing that sees Stefanski trade in his typical compositional work for something a bit more stripped down? While I’m open to hear an artist evolve on their own terms, optimistic that a new direction is for whatever reason imperative to their craft, it was a relief to hear that same gentle hand at play here.

There is an almost Radiohead quality to the music here, especially on tracks like No Place Like You, a shuffling drum and 80’s bass tone serving as the foundation. That ephemeral quality remains throughout the album, which is heavy on production tricks, though never at the expense of a solid hook. These tracks would work all the same played on a piano or guitar as accompaniment for Stefanski’s dreamy croon. Groove and melody are the twin spires that Stefanski works around, carefully weaving his narrative throughout. On the opening track, Advice (From a Friend), Stefanski utters the line, “There would never be a problem if you had an ounce of empathy,” which given the ugliness of the world, is hard to not admire, even if it may not entirely resolve everything. It’s a nice thought though to consider how we impact the world with our emotional output and our capacity to remain present. Especially in an era of near constant distraction, remaining in the moment is an increasing struggle, but one worth fighting for.

The album ends with This Fear, perhaps Stefanski’s most rock oriented track to date, albeit filtered through his dense sensibilities. I have no idea who played or programmed the drums here, but they are truly remarkable, adding an incredibly dynamic to the track, a send off of epic proportions to an unexpected and entirely excellent release so late in 2017. This is a sonically dense record that will sneak up on you, and incredibly durable for repeat listens. In fact, while I’ve long enjoyed his catalog, Portland may highlight Stefanski at his absolute best, a snapshot of urgency in motion.

Listen below and thank me later.