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  Waves and Echoes  

Make Mine Music

Release Date:


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This is the fourth, and probably final, album from Portal. I have enjoyed their new wavey pop to date, but Waves and Echoes, well, nothing in their catalog prepared me for this. They have taken what they were doing to a much higher level, smoothly merging laptoptronica with dreampop. What a wonderful sound, combining lushness and computerized complexity into one organic whole.

No, really: Waves and Echoes is a remarkable achievement. It ties in nicely with what bands like The Notwist, The Postal Service, Lali Puna, Avrocar, and even Radiohead have been trying to do lately. I guess it is fitting that this is the final Portal release -- at least they are going out on top of their game.

The album is eleven songs in about 40 minutes, and there isn't a clunker among them. Let me go over each, briefly.

1862 is a one minute long, growing keyboard drone that serves as an introduction to the album. It stops suddenly, and Trace kicks in with a fuzzy, distorted beat. Echoing keys and Rachel Hughes's voice complete the tune. It is mostly just the voice and the beat, with keys swelling up in the spaces between the verses. This is a wonderful tune.

Trace fades into Quartet, which is based on cascading layers of tinkling keyboards and rich drones. This is almost new agey, in the sense that it could be used in a really busy portion of Baraka. As the keys tinkle and cascade, a throbbing rave beat comes in, low in the background, a faint thudding beneath the washes of organic sounds. The beat grows, until this song ends up fusing new agey ambience with a sight hip-hop/drum n bass beat. I have to admit that this is a really great combination.

After that drifts out, Waves & Echoes come in. This sounds like one of the mellower pieces off of the previous album. Washes of keys flow over her voice, as she sings vaguely melancholy, and very beautifully. She sounds great here.

Endgame starts with a staticy beat, then Scot Sinfield's organic keyboards come in, chiming almost like a xylophone. This is a lovely dreampop meets IDM tune very much in the vein of Quartet. It fades into Veil, which is a short (39 seconds) keyboard drone interlude. The interlude stops suddenly to be replaced by the crazy keyboard mess of Consumed. Maybe "mess" isn't the right word there -- this song's backing consists of many layers of keyboards, all slightly out of sync, so that they create a lush, stuttering effect. Over this, Ms. Hughes sings through some echo. It is a crazy, spacey song that is both mellow and chaotic at the same time. Fascinating.

Resolution is next. This is a very pretty tune of meandering piano ambience. It is another nice interlude in the album, saving up energy for Sometimes, which is a dance tune. A hyperactive drum machine, keyboards, voice (Hughes is positively buried in echo here), and distorted guitar move along at an inexorable pace. At various times, the song reminds me of Cocteau Twins, Portishead, Fluke, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. An odd combination, but Portal are able to pull this off.

The next tune is the opposite to the multi-layered fullness of Resolution. It's called Bloodline and consists of vocals backed by quiet keyboards in a very "early Portal" sort of way. When they strip the band down like this, Ms. Hughes sounds sad, and that makes this song melancholy. But it's a short enough song, and Portal end the album with another complex, full tune called Light at the Centre. Wavering keyboards and layers of voice are driven along by a nice bass riff. This song sounds like something that could have fit on Promise, but here remixed and electronica-fied for Waves and Echoes. This tune is the continuity between their albums. At any rate, this is another great tune that just continues to grow and grow.

Wow, what a wonderful album. The first time i heard it, a few months back, i was really impressed. I have continue to be wowed by this album for several months, and am very impressed by what Portal have done here. Fans of dreampop, IDM, ambient, and new wave all need to check this album out. It will not disappoint.

Related Links:
  Promise, the album before this one.
Portal also have an excellent compilation of Remixes.

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