After the last couple years of albums from London’s Portico Quartet — 2017’s Art in the Age of Automation and 2018’s companion piece, Untitled (AITAOA #2) — it’s hard to say one is getting more of the same from the group that changed things up for a spell in 2015. The hang is an important instrument in this group’s sound, giving their disparately-influenced vibe with it’s high bpms more of a soul. The …Automation series was the more like a creative ocean liner making its measured turn before making the total about face that is Memory Streams, out now on Gondwana Records.
So much of this album sounds akin to the group’s early work, of 2009’s Isla or 2012’s self-titled release. However, this isn’t merely a revisiting of that sound, it’s still tempered with the group’s years of experience and change. The electronic influences that they have built up over time are still quite present, molding their amalgam vibe. While those precision builds in the compositions are there, so also is Jack Wyllie’s saxophone giving all the right phrases to let you know this is still improvised, this is very much living music.
But like always, this group is the master of the moody crescendo. “Signals in the Dusk” has all the spooky, cinematic quality that this group has always exuded. “Ways of Seeing” begins with piano looping a few simple chords, but that’s all the quartet needs to build around. So often, some small gesture makes way to some grand idea like the sand in a clam growing into a pearl, but with much less notion of irritation. Lead single “Offset” feels anthemic and a little solemn. “Double Helix” is an absolute marvel of a song, the epitome of cool with Milo Fitzpatrick’s bass hitting in all the right ways. Duncan Bellamy has been killing it on the drums the whole album, but his play in the pocket seems to resound here a bit more. This song is a sleeper hit, though it also perfectly sets up album closer “Immediately Visible”, a tune so sweepingly strong, the album’s end is a total surprise.
Remember everything you felt about the refreshing surprise Portico Quartet was a decade a go and add the seasoning of time, of new experiences and new influences affecting how we as people grow and change. Somehow, this group has gone around the bend and come back again, wisened, but still very much them. It’s good to have them back.