On obsessive repeat in my abode this morning is this video for “Machine Gun” from Portishead's long awaited third album titled, erm, Third. It went live on the band's website last night 8pm London time, and some kind soul has helpfully uploaded it to YouTube so you don't have to give them your email address in exchange for viewing rights.
Enjoy it while it lasts.
I find this band's output completely intriguing. Their albums from the 90s — 1994's Dummy and 1997's Portishead — were viewed as particularly cinematic exponents of the trip-hop fad which, let's be honest, is essentially thought of as really good wine bar music. (In Portishead's case really really good wine bar music.) Since then they've made nary a peep, save for singer Beth Gibbons excellent, but low-key collaborative album Out of Season, created with “Rustin Man” aka Paul Webb, bassist for the even more mysterious Talk Talk (about whom a week of posting here is inevitable). It marked the emergence in Gibbons' music of a more rustic (no pun intended), British countryside vibe. i.e. More strummed guitars. Hazy memories viewed through a boggy mist rather than a smoky club.
You could be excused for missing the shift in sound on that album, however, since Gibbons' voice is so overdetermined, so torch singer, anything quiet is bound to blur into a sexy wash of sound.
But “Machine Gun” rubs your face in change. The mood has shifted from something sexy to something claustrophobic, industrial — it's dark as in deadly and dangerous rather than dark as in Eliot Spitzer. It has more in common with the jungle craze that was a kissing cousin to trip-hop or, perhaps, the newly resurgent experimental noise of young bands like Fuck Buttons, Health, and Crystal Castles.
It makes me think of terrorism, pollution, stagflation and various other forms of global panic rather than ecstasy consumption.
Portishead have gone more than a decade since producing music for public consumption, and audiences would have warmly embraced a rehash of their older records. So kudos to them. In a season where the most veterans are rousing excitement sheerly through guerilla street date strategy — NIN a week or so ago, yesterday's announcements of imminent releases by Gnarls Barkley and the Raconteurs — Portishead are doing it with music. Who wouldda thunk it?
After the jump, a live version of some new album tracks.