Porta Bohemica signals a subtle yet major change for Trixie Whitley. Following on from her first album Fourth Corner, she has refined her craft in a big way, a feat achieved by scrapping an unsatisfactory earlier version of the album on the way to reaching this final product. While her sound follows similar influences and styles, the high level of improvement in style and lyricism is apparent across the entire album.
The defining trait of Porta Bohemica is its minimal production style, similar to Fourth Corner. Opening and closing on tracks so sparse that they’re almost acoustic, the tone for the album is instantly set. Even when more elements come in and more genres are explored, there’s never an overuse of any one element: The jittery melodies and beat of Salt give the song more than enough character to thrive off of, despite consisting of little more than a piano, some drums and a guitar. Eliza’s Smile throws jazz balladry into the mix, with a swell of horns highlighting its most important moments, and the piano and guitar conveying more than enough emotion throughout the remainder even as Whitley herself remains quiet.
The best side effect of the minimal production, however, is the focus it gives to Whitley’s voice. This is apparent on songs like the understated showstopper New Frontiers, but especially true on the lone blues rock track Witness. It feels noticeably full compared to many of the preceding songs while still offering ample room to allow Whitley to shine, with her vocal pitch shift and army of backing vocals the chorus effectively doubling its power. Despite being one of the highlights based solely on its instrumental arrangement, it’s lifted even higher by the power of her own voice and lyrics, and acts as the best example of the way these elements combine to make the individual songs so strong.
Porta Bohemica is a great success for Whitley. Her work has clearly paid off, with the result being both her finest release yet and one of 2016’s strongest albums so far. The songs all show perfect attention to detail in every element, and not a single moment stands out as something that required a change, right down to the piano-only closing track The Visitor. Trixie Whitley has outdone herself the second time around.