In 2006, it seemed like Portal was finished. The band released two compilations in an attempt to wrap up their recorded output, a sort of farewell to their legions of fans. I was, to be honest, too depressed at the thought of a Portal-free world to review those compilations, both of which were worthwhile (especially their utterly melancholy cover of Homeward Bound which wrapped up the Prehistory compilation.)
And now, three years later, Portal are back from the grave. The band is still mostly the project of Mr. Scott Sinfield, only now instead of having a standard vocalist (Rachel Hughes) he is mixing it up a bit. On this EP, he collaborates with Glen Johnson (of Piano Magic), Ben Holton (from Epic45), and Lorriane Lelis (who has worked with both Mahogany and Auburn Lull). Quite a line up of collaborators.
There are four songs here, so let's examine each.
Options is the lead-off tack, and it features Glen Johnson on vocals. This is a synth pop tune with burbling bass, a metronomic tapped beat, and some soaring lead synths. Johnson's voice is rich and melancholy, layered over Sinfield's music. This is a catchy tune that could have been a minor dance hit in 1986.
On You're Building Over My Childhood collaborator Ben Holten adds guitar as well as voice. The guitar is a bright chiming, a la Holton's work with Epic45. His voice is very English sounding, and Sinfield backs this up with a tremoloed synth line and some nice drumbeats. This reminds me of early goth, think Clan of Xymox or the first few Modern English records. Great stuff.
The third track, Slow Burner was the song that signaled Portal's official return when it was featured on the MMM50 compilation CD last year. This is the most "Portal-like" of the tracks here, in that Sinfield's work is similar to what he was doing on Waves and Echoes. This is a faint wash of a song, with Lorraine Lelis's soprano voice layered overtop. Nice enough, but my least favorite of the tracks here. It almost sounds like this is Sinfield finishing up the last of the unfinished business from 2006.
The fourth track is the Future Conditional remix of Options. Future Conditional does not refer to the verb tense in this case, but rather that is apparently the name of Glen Johnson's latest project. On this remix, he has added additional vocals courtesy of Angèle David-Guillou, who is also with Klima. Johnson has turned this song from an 80s synth tune into, well, into a 1970s synth tune. He has dragged out the tones, making them sound longer and higher pitched, and thus more like the work of Tangerine Dream. It's the future of music as imagined in the 1970s. Ms. David-Guillou adds some nice backing vocals, giving the song a very spacey feel. Well done.
Overall, this is a fun little EP. It seems that Portal are exploring some older synth sounds these days, and that is fine with me. In some respects it feels like instead of just getting Portal back, we got Portal and My Favorite, since both mixes of Options and You're Building Over My Childhood feel almost like that band's retro 80s fetishism. Good news all around.
I wonder what is next for Portal.