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An Introduction to Portishead

Geoff Barrow’s Portishead were one band that took advantage of new technological possibilities of the 1990s to create a synthesis of hip hop beats, scratching, film noir soundtracks, and a vocalist who bought to mind jazz greats from a bygone era. Their first two albums are classified as trip hop, but they came back after a decade’s hiatus, updating their sound for a new era with a strong new album.

I see myself as a rockist, but I still find Portishead accessible; they’re a song based band, while they use a mixture of organic instruments (guitarist Adrian Utley is prominent) and samples. Here are five tracks from Portishead’s members.

(1) Mysterons – from Dummy (1994)
The opening track from their debut album is a good snapshot of Portishead; it shows interesting instrumentation with the guitar and theremin, along with Beth Gibbons’ luscious vocals.

(2) It’s A Fire – from Dummy (1994)
The prettiest song on Dummy, with Gibbons’ voice backed by gentle organ.

(3) Cowboys – from Portishead (1997)
Portishead adapted a tougher, darker sound for their second album. Gibbons’ voice is distorted, with a sass and bite that was absent on their first record.

(4) Sand River – by Beth Gibbons and Rustin’ Man – from Out Of Season (in 2002)
With Portishead on hiatus, Gibbons joined forces with Talk Talk bass player Paul Webb, for an interesting collaborative album, kind of moody acoustic jazz. I couldn’t find the studio version on Youtube, so here’s a live take.

(5) Magic Doors – from Third (2008)
After an eleven year hiatus, Portishead updated their sound for 2008’s Third. More than anything, it confirmed their class, that they were a band that were able to transcend an era and a trend.

For more information and individual album reviews on Portishead: https://albumreviews.blog/reviews/portishead/

7 thoughts on “An Introduction to Portishead Leave a comment

  1. This takes me back! I could listen to Portishead all day long, but haven’t listened to them in quite a while (about 10 years). I still haven’t heard even a bit of Third!

    Liked by 1 person

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