Monday, March 31, 2008

New Portishead Single

With their first album in a decade, Third, due out April 29th on Mercury/Island, the new single, "Machine Gun", is a tantalizing promise of what is in store from Portishead. For those of us that have been listening to PNYC (aka, Live at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC) as though it were the last we'd ever hear of the Bristol, England trio, news of the appropriately named third LP was a welcome communiqué indeed.

As their debut, Dummy, and self-titled sophomore release became the soundtrack to high school angst, the live album sufficed as background score to young adult depression. Defying any categorical genre other than trip-hop (a tragically short-lived genre, to be sure), Portishead made atmosphere music full of acid jazz, cabaret vocals, and spy movie synesthesia. Simply and honestly put, no other band ever sounded like Portishead.

A ten year hiatus will have the tendency to put some pressure on an upcoming release for a band in their position. So far all we have is the single, which is ultimately gratifying because the band at once sounds like the Portishead we remember, and what we would hope the progression of their sound would result in. "Machine Gun" is a minimalist track of drum machine and wandering synth, would-be theme music to Fritz Lang's Metropolis, had cinema included audio in 1927 Germany. Only the vocals of Beth Gibbons provides anything organic in this industrial composition; but even her fractured warble only last the first two-thirds of the song, giving way to the mechanical assault of drums. The chilly synth melody that brings "Machine Gun" to a close is reminiscent of Vangelis' score to Blade Runner.

Strange, perhaps, that the song recalls two classic science-fiction films. Then again, the fantasy of science-fiction past has a way of becoming eerily similar to modern-day (i.e., the future) reality. "Machine Gun" manages to sound fitting in both worlds.

Here is the video/mp3:

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