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PORTICO QUARTET

Portico Quartet return with Memory Streams, their fifth studio album and one that continues the journey that first started with 2008's Mercury nominated debut "Knee Deep in the North Sea". It's a creative path that has seen the band embrace new technology and explore ambient and electronic influences alongside minimalism, jazz and beyond. It is a process that has encouraged change. Each album has seen the band expand its palate or explore new trajectories. From the gentle charm of their breakthrough's inimitable mix of jazz, world and minimalist influences, to the tight-knit brilliance of "Isla", the electronic infused eponymous Portico Quartet to 2016's return "Art in the Age of Automation" (the band's most electronic statement to date) they have never been a band to look backwards. Each record has been its own world, its own statement and offered its own meaning. It's the mark of a band that has always both stood apart from any scene and been prepared to challenge its self and find new things to say and to push the limits of what they could do.

It is an approach that has encouraged the band to plough their own furrow. Drummer Duncan Bellamy notes that "For better or worse I think we have always been quite an isolated band. Perhaps that comes from never feeling like we really belonged to or fit in to a scene when we first started making music" While for saxophonist Jack Wyllie " I feel more connected to other musicians these days and those relationships influence the sound we have in some way. But I wouldn't say we feel a part of scene, it still feels quite out on its own, which is cool, because it helps the music feel unique"?

The band's new album, "Memory Streams" is part of the same continuum and yet, as the name hints, there is a sense here of a remembering, shards of past influences, hints of ideas re-forged. For Wyllie, Memory Streams "feels in some ways about the identity of the band, about the records we've made before, and the memory of them" whereas for Bellamy it suggests "a torrent of imagery, accessing and reliving archived memories, perhaps not even your own".

Sonically, the album embraces the classic Portico Quartet sound pallet of drums, saxophone, bass and Hang- Drums, but nonetheless the sound has modulated, become more modern, whilst still channelling the beauty and mystery which has always marked the very best of Portico Quartet's music. It's the sound of a band at ease with its self who after a dozen years of recording and playing together are able to simultaneously explore and embrace their own identity.

"Memory Streams" also marks a return to a more predominantly band orientated sound than "AITAOA" and its partner release, the mini-album "Untitled". Bellamy says "we wanted to create something that had texture, fibre and space to it. Something that felt vivid, real and alive". During recording the band re-amped a lot of the sounds on the record, a process which lends a sense of depth and spaciousness to the sound. Wyllie adds, "We tried to reduce the pallet to what really identified the band and also as a way to help us write - it's not easy if you have unlimited possibilities. But it was also was an interesting challenge as it was about writing something new, that felt like a development, whilst also drawing on the past".

"Memory Streams" opens with "With, Beside, Against" which has an expansive, quietly unfolding quality that makes it the perfect album opener and was also one of the first tracks they wrote for the album. "Signals" is a creeping, mysterious track that captures the spirit of the record. Its hypnotic, rolling quality builds throughout with shades of a classic Portico Quartet tune but with a 'tougher' edge. The outstanding "Gradient" is a more produced piece. Mixing lo-fi and beautifully recorded acoustic parts together it grows from a simple, repeated Hang-Drum motif, outwards into a searching hypnotic crescendo. "Ways of Seeing" is a synthesis of minimalism and more dancefloor-oriented rhythms. A lone pulse from the drum machine cuts through a haze of chiming, swirling Hang-Drums and pads built from shards of looped saxophone. "Memory Palace" is a distant echo of the motif from "Gradient", and is a bare, slow piano piece shrouded in a mist of saxophone noise. The punchy "Offset" is all about motion and tension and Bellamy's drums pound in response. "Dissident Gardens" is an intricate, hypnotic track in 3 parts. Almost prog like in rhythm but has a strong minimalist element to it with Farfisa organs as the repetitive top lines. "Double Helix" begins with string swells, it stops and jolts as if someone is switching TV channels before locking into a deep groove. The beautifully sparse, emotional heft of "Immediately Visible" sits in a powerful lineage of Portico Quartet tracks such as "Line", "Rubidium" and "Beyond Dialogue". It was largely improvised in the studio and offers the perfect ending point for the album with its sense of journey and deep well of feeling. An album that locates their music in an age where we have unfettered access to a vast and ever expanding archive of imagery and ideas, Memory Streams both embraces and builds on Portico Quartet's own unique music and legacy and locates their music firmly in the present.

STAFF COMMENTS

Millie says: ‘Memory Streams’ is a sublime neo-classical, and prominently jazz album. “With, Beside, Against” begins the album in minimalist style creating an earnest tone of reflection. As soon as the rest of ensemble joins in, the music becomes joyous, blossoming into percussion driven highs of emotion reminiscent of their earlier work. The album centres on capturing the memories of their past, Portico Quartet wanted to create something “vivid, real and alive” and I think they’ve just done that with this timeless album. I might be the only one here but when track as beautiful as “Immediately Visible” makes your heart ache a bit, that’s when you know the song is going to stay with you for some time. Similar artists on the Portico’s wavelength are GoGo Penguin, Nils Frahm and Penguin Café. If you are a fan of them, then this is the perfect album for you to end 2019 on a calming and gentle note.

Portico Quartet

Live / Remix

    Portico Quartet bring their powerful live performance to record. Drawing on the inspiration of electronica, ambient, classical and dance music, they take their strange, beautiful, cinematic, future music to exciting new vistas. Live/Remix is a double album offering a unique insight into two distinct parts of the band's personality. Live catches the band on tour in 2012 and features tracks from last year's eponymous album, Portico Quartet, as well as new arrangements of old favourites 'Clipper' and 'Dawn Patrol'. The hard won collective empathy that is at the heart of their sound remains the primary touchstone as Portico Quartet take the listener on a journey into the heart of their inimitable electro-acoustic-ambient music. Delivered with a powerful punch, the album adds that extra drive and energy honed over years of live performance, and many pieces appear in dynamic new arrangements. East London based Swedish singer Cornelia joins for a truly epic version of their track 'Steepless'. Remix, curated by Portico Quartet, features mixes of their music by some of the band's favourite producers and DJs. Will Ward (1/3 of electronica outfit Circle Traps and a producer in his own right) keeps the ambience of 'Window Seat' but morphs it into a slow techno burner. SBTRKT, who did a mix for PQ back in 2010 - just before he went on to enjoy global success - gives a UK garage swagger to Line from the band's previous album Isla. Luke Abbott, well known for his use of analogue synthesisers, sticks almost entirely to the original recorded parts contorting 'Rubidium' into a fresh kaleidoscopic groove. Scratcha DVA, perhaps best known for hosting Rinse FM's grimy breakfast, but also a prolific DJ and producer in his own right, drags 'Laker Boo' into a darker, bassy more urban place that suits the tune's hypnotic vibe. LV take 'City Of Glass' to the dance floor. The sax has been twisted into new hooks and melodies and set against the drums, giving the tune some serious welly. Last summer the band ran a remix competition on Soundcloud for the track 'Steepless', and Capac came out on top from over 300 entries, sitting the vocal against a beautiful field recording, giving it an extra layer of intimacy and subtlety. Konx-om-Pax is a phrase purportedly used in the Eleusinian Mysteries and used by Aleister Crowley for his Essays on Light published in 1907. It seems fitting then that the producer should remix '4096 colours', a piece in which a recording made in front of Gerhard Richter's famous stain glass window was used as the backdrop and inspiration for one of Portico Quartet's most evocative tracks. Berlin is one of the band's favourite cities and Luca Lozano fronts the highly respected Berlin label Klasse records and is a regular DJ at Berghain. His take on 'Laker Boo' comes straight from the Berlin dance floor. Finally the album closes with the band's own enigmatic low key synth based remix of 'Steepless'.

    Mercury Prize-nominated Portico Quartet have always been an impossible band to pin down. Sending out echoes of jazz, electronica, ambient music and minimalism, the group created their own singular, cinematic sound over the course of three studio albums, from their 2007 breakthrough 'Knee-Deep in the North Sea', and 2010 John Leckie produced 'Isla', to the self titled record 'Portico Quartet' in 2012. Now rebooted as Portico Quartet after a brief spell as the three-piece Portico, the group's fourth album is on shop favourite, Matthew Halsall's, Gondwana records. Heralding a return to their mesmeric signature sound but also featuring fresh new sonic departures, the band's comeback was so eagerly anticipated that their four-night run at London's Archspace in June, sold out in less than an hour.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    David says: Released on shop favourite, Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana label, Portico Quartet’s fourth album ‘Art In The Age Of Automation’ is a mesmeric, neo classical masterpiece. Sometimes the neo classical tag can be more of an insult than a compliment, bringing to mind Debenhams at dinner time piano, or the soundtrack to a documentary about the retreat from Stalingrad. Portico Quartet however, sidestep these comparisons by looking towards their contemporaries, visionaries like Floating Points and the more electronic moments of Radiohead, are as much of an influence as classic ambient artists such as Steve Reich and Brian Eno. ‘Art In The Age Of Automation’ is a genuinely beautiful listening experience. A languid journey through the full spectrum of sound, bookended by the rise and fall of the sun, melodies reflecting in its rays as the world, for these brief moments at least, let’s us drift away together in some kind of hard won harmony.


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