Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More mood, less samples

Pay attention, 90s acts looking for a comeback: Portishead's Third is how it's done. Reemerging with their first studio album in 11 years, the Bristol, England, trio of trip hop pioneers manages to smoothly transition from its first two records into new territory, while still retaining their essence.

Third is a natural progression for the group - hauntingly noir-ish as ever, but the most menacing of anything they've done. Synths and funky, harsh percussion abound, in place of hip hop loops and scratches; equal parts pretty and creepy, Beth Gibbons's jarringly strong voice navigates bleak lyrical terrain; where vast, orchestral arrangements were once employed, the songs here are much more sparse. The world feels more apocalyptic today than it did a decade ago, and Portishead clearly excel in the environment.

Album bookends "Silence" and "Threads" set the tone for the record by establishing familiar Portishead elements - jazzy guitar, tinny vocals, background strings - then building them into full-on distortion. Danceable anxiety is the name of the game on this record, as conveyed in the disorienting rhythms of "Nylon Smile" and "Plastic." But the band's current sound is best exemplified by standouts "The Rip," "We Carry On," and "Machine Gun," each of which combines heavy, synthy beats with ethereal vocals to great effect.

Third is scary; lovely; strange; rockin'. In a word, it's Portishead.

Grade: A-

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Steve Thorngate said...

Cool. I'm going to go buy this now...

John G. Potter said...

Great - let me know what you think.

Dave said...

Nice review, JP. I'll take a listen of this as well.