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 itself and find new things to say and to push the limits of what they could do.
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. It’s 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.
01 Nov Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich UK
02 Nov Barbican Centre, London UK
06 Nov Gorilla Manchester UK
07 Nov Trinity Centre, Bristol UK
08 Nov Sage 2 Gateshead UK
09 Nov The Art School, Glasgow UK