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When Words Dance

In their annual year-end critics’ poll, The Seattle Times ranked When Words Dance as one of the very best Seattle albums of 2020, saying:

For his first release since parting with Sub Pop — an intriguing match that never quite found its rhythm — the veteran emcee pulled from his vault this jazz-steeped set recorded just after completing his label debut. Porter Ray’s flow is like a butterfly in slow motion — appreciate the natural grace and beauty he makes look easy.

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Watercolor

Someone said the slow-burn groove of Porter Ray’s 2017 Sub Pop release, Watercolor was “decidedly wavy.” It’s a good descriptor of the push-pull forces at work here: just as songs begin to take off, they slow down again. It’s this ongoing tension that makes the record so fascinating and so perplexing.

This is headphone music, demanding your attention, full of hushed lyrics, buried voices under the verses, mumbles deep in the mix, and smooth ass bass lines. (Shout out to BRoc on the production.)

I’m a huge fan of Porter’s back catalog of mixtapes, but even then, it took me a dozen listens to make sense of this 18-track double vinyl. We live in a time of five-second sound bites and snap judgments, and this record defiantly rejects both. It builds slowly. It demands investment and patience.

Watercolor starts to kick into gear around track 4, “Past Life” (feat. Ca$htro), before easing down again into an instrumental interlude.

Watercolor slowly primes you to achieve that moment where you’re ready to receive bold truths. This record is musical yoga, held in stasis, where the smallest movements are rendered epic, practice through repetition, recurring themes, and verses throughout multiple songs and MCs. Just breathe. Those bangers come later: “Lightro,” “Beautiful,” “Sacred Geometry”—all on the latter half of the record—deliver in spades. The longer you spend in this dream space, the deeper the dream goes. Lay in corpse pose. It’ll come to you.

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Nightfall

Nightfall is a lovely six-song EP from Porter Ray. The rapping here feels effortless, against a backdrop of dreamy, hazy jazz, like the smoke trails floating on the cover. Movie dialogue samples and verses from Cashtro and JusMoni further elevate the noir mood. Released in 2015, I splashed out and picked up this beautiful limited edition red vinyl–still available through Bandcamp–which includes an all-instrumental version on the B side. Nightfall flows as a complete work from beginning to end. Most days, like today, I find myself flipping the record over, listening to side B, and then back to A and then B again. And again.

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