Every once in a while, you come across an artist who really makes you feel like you’ve been asleep. What they do is so unique that you get the impression you’ve been missing out on something everyone else knows about, and you wonder what you were doing the whole time.
So went my introduction to Town Portal, an instrumental three-piece from Copenhagen who, at their third full-length, aren’t really newcomers. Still, with this album, they’ve earned a shot at being catapulted into the proverbial spotlight as much as anyone.
Town Portal play a brand of instrumental math-rock that, while technically proficient, shies away from any kind of showboating. Every now and then a little variation or fill will escape the vise grip of musical discipline and restraint, but it is always in service of moving the song forward. Comparisons with Meshuggah, while otherwise ill-advised, are quite accurate in this regard.
RELEASE DATE: 25 May 2015 LABEL: Subsuburban Recording Company and Small Pond Records
RECOMMENDED TRACK: Start to finish
Listen to “The Occident” or either of their other two efforts, and you gain an appreciation for the refined, well-oiled workings of a band that knows exactly what it’s going for. Town Portal seem to subscribe to the old adage of “leave ‘em wanting more,” with none of their three albums over eight tracks long. “The Occident” in particular clocks in at just over a half-hour, and you’ll likely be starting the album over before you know it. The 8-track-long journey maintains a consistent tempo throughout, chugging along at an unrushed pace, only interrupted in the first and final third by two interlude tracks. Even these, however, could easily have served as the first couple minutes of the songs they precede.
The dissonant tendencies present on their previous efforts are more subdued here, with the melodies nonetheless taking twists and turns that, while never becoming become routine, you will develop an affinity for, providing that the music clicks with you. Within the first few powerful seconds of “Bonus Trigger,” you should be convinced, as Town Portal offer innovative yet intuitive chord changes paired with ambitious yet calculated rhythms. Guitar smoothly stitches succeeding layers of arpeggios over one another, accompanied by deliciously intelligent drumming, while the bass tone evokes gears grinding against each other without ever becoming too muddy, astutely finding gaps in the sound to slip into like a musical game of Tetris. The band’s monolithic sound is perfectly balanced between all three members, paired with production that fits to a T. This almost sounds like the work of a solo artist, in that its cohesion is absolute and precise, with no one straying from the target.
The most appealing thing to me about Town Portal’s music is that it plays with your expectations, thereby changing them once you get used to their style. This may well be intended, but could also be the result of three guys completely in sync, on their own wavelength just a tiny bit divergent from that which the rest of us run on. It makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
By the time the spiraling melodies of closing track “World Core and Peripheral Islands” wind down to a close, the listener realizes that Town Portal have been leading him/her ever further down the rabbit hole, having made subtle indications of some sense of closure without ever committing. The track closes as the band make their exit, chiding the listener for ever having presumed to know where the journey would end. This was their ride all along, but the price of admission was well worth it.
My favorite moment, though, is at the end of the strangely evocative “K.” The imagery sets in during the final two minutes, with the distorted and hectic mid-section giving way to a clean fade-out. I find myself imagining the band on a ship sailing off into the sunset, as we stand and watch from the docks, seeing them off while hoping that they don’t take too long before coming back. A real gem.