Portabella's latest record blazes by with loud guitars and illustrative lyrics, carrying a psychedelic flair that keeps you wanting more.
Earlier this year, the experimental psych and indie duo Portabella followed up last year's self-titled debut with the Return to the Fountain of Olives via Paisley Shirt Records. With most tracks clocking in at less than three minutes, the 14-track album races by with each trippy synth line, pounding drum beat, and spacey guitar riff resembling a stripped-down formula that's reminiscent of '90s Guided by Voices—it's a hybrid of experimental rock and psychedelia.
Based in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Portabella consists of multi-instrumentalists Jason High and William Hill. Through the new record, you'll hear a myriad of instrumental textures accented with a rough DIY production style, filling up your eardrums like a full band would. At times, High's vocal deliveries match Stephen Malkmus' breezy, carefree half-singing, half-speaking vocal style, pairing perfectly with the dense imagery and storytelling. Though the arrangements are loaded with overdriven distortion, bright melodic hooks and guitar freak-outs, especially on the jangly opener "Angelic Super Slide," many tracks here deviate from your usual song structures. Instead, the dynamics shift and dart around abruptly and fluidly at others, while taking on a more cohesive sound compared to their previous releases.
From the get-go, the opener "Angelic Super Slide" lightly states: "We’re all gonna play our best and if people don’t like it, that’s okay... If you don’t like it, it's not for you!" right before you're met with an earworm chorus and screeching guitar solo that's the perfect taste into the duo's lo-fi psychedelic movements. The sleazy and pummeling "The Wrong Way" is hooked-filled mayhem comprised of off-kilter lyrics, whooshing synths and an oddball weirdness that sits somewhere between The Fall and Men's Recovery Project. The spacey "Captain Morning Cloud" is the first left-field acoustic here, filled with naturalistic lyrics of sleeping in trees and "drinking water under the sea."
The sprawling "The Dreamer Laughed" tells a surreal and nightmarish story underlined by roomy drums and eerie electronics. The quirky and sweet ballad "Champagne Girl" is ironically claimed "not a love song," while still sounding like the album's strangest track. "Window" is lyrically dark with lyrics like "Rock bottom is my favorite place" and "Just went out the window," but threaded in the duo's own sense of humor. While "Dancing Moon Eggs" is a tripped-out instrumental that's reminiscent of Ween, the Amphetamine Reptile-styled "Earthworm Parachute" is packed with thick and bizarre time signatures. Returning to the lyrical themes presented in the opener, the closing track "Avoid" expresses paranoia through its only lyrics: "Stay inside to avoid the world." The drums punctuate every word as the melody descends with an air of doom, with dense clusters of distortion washing over you like a bad trip.
Portabella have been around for quite some time, recently releasing tracks recorded back in mid-nineties. However, the duo's latest effort reflects their wide variety of styles that's guided with a boast of confidence and eccentricity. From its shambolic soundscapes to its heady introspection, Return to the Fountain of Olives makes for one hell of a ride.
Return to the Fountain of Olives is available now via Paisley Shirt Records.
Stream the new album below.