Portal: Waves and Echoes (Make Mine Music, 2005)

by Jason

Portal WavesI love albums that sound like they are depicting journeys, whether the journey be physical, mental, or spiritual. For me, Portal has captured all three of these concepts in one beautiful album filled with ambient textures, listful female vox, and incredibly catchy beats. What’s more is Portal really does all of this in what seems to be melodic song structures. It’s not quite music in the traditional sense, yet it is not quite ambient as well. What I will say is that it is beautiful. For me, it conjures pictures of gray skies with the snow falling listfully along the landscape, covering the rolling hills with a blanket of white ice. Add to this playful children, and a utopian-like village with its cottages and smoking chimneys. Scott Sinfield started Portal as a home recording project in 1996 and is now accompanied by the angelic voiced Rachel Hughes. The movements in this disc are carried by Scott‘s experienced compositions and Rachel’s soaring vocals, when she is present that is. Although in the past Portal has presented a more instrumental face to the world, Waves and Echoes disc has more vocals than before, but the instrumental product certainly still remains.

The disc opens with “1982.” This track is a slow, listful drone that begins silently and builds slowly and fades. This leads into “Trace,” which is Rachel‘s first appearance on the disc. The song begins with a distorted beat and spacey, bright chimes that ring amidst the pulsing beat. The chimes only take a breather to make way for Rachel‘s angelic voice. The vocals are comforting and speak of love that is loyal. A nice change from all the jaded songs out there concerning relationships. “Quartet” is another instrumental that is really incredible. It has a great throb to it that pulses over a wall of ambient sounds. As the track progresses, a break beat comes in among the throb and wall of voices. The title track, “Waves and Echoes,” starts with minimal percussion and beautiful, droning guitars. Once again, Rachel lends her vox to the mix with a more melancholy tone. Perhaps, this is a break in the relational developments that are hinted to in “Trace.” Disillusionment is central to this track.

“Endgame” begins with static and fuzz as percussive tools. A low, droning hum pulses in the background and creates an ominous mood. Bright keys come in and dance amid the languor. Maybe this highlights that time after disappointment, a time of healing, perhaps. “Veil” provides a 39 second intermediate track that leads too “Consumed.” This begins with clicking noises amidst repeated guitar strings. Rachel croons amidst the beautiful chaos and lends an organic tone to a rather jolting, electronic piece. “Resolution” begins with the sound of an old gramophone with that great needle popping sound. This flows with piano and moves into a beautiful blend of keys that sing and glide around the pops. As the name of the track indicates, the difficulties found in “Waves and Echoes” seemed to come to some sort of resolution in this track. Portal is stellar at communicating a story through sound. This is what I love about great electronic/ambient artists.

“Sometimes” has a cheery beat with great keyboards running between them. <b>Rachel’s</b> vocals echo throughout the track with confidence and a certain, middle eastern feel to them. There is a briskness about this track that is refreshing. “Bloodline” is ominous and has a low, humming drone under Rachel’s languid vocals. This track caps off the shorter tracks on the disc and moves into two very long tracks that round out the entire disc. “Light at the Centre” is a track that clocks in around 16 minutes. It begins with a beautiful wall of drones and some pops and clicks mixed in there. Eventually, a drum beat comes in and Rachel begins to sing. The song seems hopeful and full of brightness. Also, it seems to have a traditional song type edge to it that floats every so expertly over the ambience. The disc ends with “Music for Broadcast (version),” which begins with a free-form drone. This develops into a stripped down set of chime like sounds that repeat over and over again in a hypnotic tone. The drone plays in the background as it flows behind the chimes. Eventually, the chimes once again give way to the drone and more layers are added. This simple 14 minute track is subtle and beautiful, closing out a fabulous album.

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