Review Summary: "Take off your gloom and set a minute."
Portraits of Past were a screamo band from 1994 to 1995. They reunited in 2008, and in 2010 released Cypress Dust Witch. Not having heard their earlier music I’m not sure where they fit in the 90s screamo scene, but Cypress Dust Witch does seem like the natural progression for an early screamo band who decided to reunite and try for a more modern but still unique sound.
The EP starts out with a bassline that sounds a bit like something out of a psychedelic rock song. Then the guitars come in, and the bass starts this fast syncopated bassline that stays at the forefront of the song. It gives the song this strange, swinging feel that I’ve never really heard before in screamo, despite frequent claims of jazz influence. There is clear emotion, but the unique melodic and rhythmic approaches create a feeling of restraint and variety that was perhaps more prominent in early screamo than it is today, when many bands just pummel the listener with one minor chord per measure.
Throughout the album, this approach continues, consistently surprising with intricate and unique instrumentation. Perhaps the song that is most representative of the general feeling this EP leaves is Through To An End, which has an anthemic riff that didn’t quite go where one would expect, and left me feeling somewhat confused. Turning to the lyrics, I didn’t really find any help. Of course there’s a general feeling of desperation you get from lines like “Tell me, how can I make it through to an end?” And there’s a consistent imagery of the ocean that fits quite well with the band’s musical approach. But it still feels like there’s something that’s not quite getting through. Regardless, this obscurity is what keeps me interested in Cypress Dust Witch. While it’s nice to know what a singer is talking about, screamo doesn’t really allow for much clarity - unless it’s utter depression of course. It’s hard for me to listen to someone passionately screaming “Hey, I’d like you to meet Andy” and take it seriously.
Ultimately, Cypress Dust Witch is a unique, cohesive EP that communicates great emotion without resorting to genre formulas.