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mixtape (detail) - sakura snow

Although this time last year I relented to the whole end-of-year list thing, through a combination of laziness and principle I’ve decided to retire from that and instead focus on more practical list-making (e.g. “Top 5 Ways To Thread The Shoelaces Of My Work Shoes” or “Top 10 Items I Discovered In My Stool This Morning”). This is not to say I don’t very much enjoy trawling the various End Of Year Best Ofs that populate the interwebosphere every January – they are a great source of new listening inspiration, and can be a useful nudge in finally going ahead and procuring that ‘buzz’ album that you’ve been meaning to check out but haven’t yet got around to (but no, that Bon Iver chappie is not for me). Particularly those lists that attempt to add a little bit of context as to why a particular recording is worthy of attention, as opposed to those un-annotated lists which I myself was guilty of. This is one I like, or this… (and for group-compiled, consensus-based lists you could do worse that check this one out).

But this does not mean I’m above trying to foist my questionable tastes on others…

Each year I make myself a “Best Of…” compilation, trying to encapsulate the best of that year’s listening (and live) experiences over the course of a couple of mastered CDs. And so in a rare act of magnanimous generosity, I’m making that compilation available here for your listening pleasure.

NarcoAgent – Best of 2008 volume I
NarcoAgent – Best of 2008 volume II

If you’d like an aurally-tangible run-through of the releases that caught my ear in 2008, right-click, ‘Save As’ and put ’em on the portable music player of your choice . Hopefully you make some enjoyable discoveries (or at the very least supress those sociopathic thoughts for an hour or two – it works for me!).

mixtape (detail) - sakura snow 

This first NarcoAgent ‘podcast’ also marks the launch of the Mixtapes page where I’ll occasionally upload other collections for your listening pleasure.
Tracklistings & associated info to be found there too.

mixtape (detail) - sakura snow


On getting wind of this year’s Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona it immediately became an attend-at-all-costs kinda thing – three (presumably sunny) days of some of my favourite bands by the sea in one of my favourite cities being too good to resist. The incredible line-up that sucked me in included Portishead, Scout Niblett, Six Organs Of Admittance, Boris, Public Enemy performing “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back“, Om, Shipping News, Okkervil River, Bill Callahan, Kinski, Fuck Buttons… tickets were swiftly procured, so when Shellac were added to the bill a little while later I could barely contain myself.

The festival site is the Parc del Forum, a concrete ‘urban park’ built for the 2004 “Universal Forum of Cultures” and located in the northwest corner of the city at the end of the Avinguda Diagonal & Barcelona’s stretch of beaches. The five open-air stages and the indoor ‘Auditori’ concert hall are well-spaced so that moving from one to the other is easily done, without there being too much sound bleed from one to the other. The ATP stage (where most of my time is spent over the next few days) is particularly well-situated in the far corner of the site, a tree-lined avenue leading to the stage, which is flanked by a grassy knoll (from which the sea is visible) on one side and a bank of concrete seating on the other, meaning great views for (almost) all. 

Primavera map

An early arrival to ‘check-in’ means that I get to enjoy sitting in the sun listening to Portishead soundcheck, the views out over the industrialised section of Barcelona’s coastline suitably soundtracked by Portishead’s mechanical beats and spooky synths. Hearing snatches of the likes of “Glory Box” and “Sour Times” along with new favourites like “We Carry On” and “Machine Gun” mean that we’re all going to be in for a treat later that evening, and certainly gets the pulse racing for what is in store when the festival properly kicks off a few hours later.

I’ve only recently come to the finely-crafted soundworlds of Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie/Microphones – the brooding ‘organic’ odes to nature (in particular to the topography of his native Anacortes, Washington State) cut through with an almost playful folkpop sensibility mixed with lo-fi ‘anything goes’ experimentation. His recordings are often ambitious, densely-layered, inscrutable works, rounded out with contributions from any number of fleeting studio visitors, so I wondered how this sound would translate to his solo live performance.

For the first part of the set Elverum (on acoustic guitar) is joined by Julie Doiron (voice) of recently-reunited Canadian band Eric’s Trip (who are also playing the festival) and Fred Squire (electric guitar). The trio have recently recorded together (Mt. Eerie’s forthcoming “Lost Wisdom” album) and are therefore comfortably in-sync with each other & the material, but nonetheless fail to ignite – Elverum’s soft & measured mumble meshes well with Doiron’s Joni-Mitchell-esque voice but the songs seem to wander aimlessly before either ending abruptly or petering out sans any sense of resolution. Nonetheless, experiencing this pastoralism, beer-in-hand, under the sunny Spanish sky seems as good an introduction as any to the delights of this seaside festival. 

Mount Eerie, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 29-May-2008

For the rest of the set Elverum is on his own, this time on electric guitar, and the material is of a doomier, gloomier bent. He gently coaxes distorted waves of sound from his guitar that better evoke the looming and vast natural landscapes that often serve as his muse, and the lyrics take on a darker existentialism than those brightened by the earlier presence of Doiron.

Mount Eerie’s current focus is on what Elverum has termed “Black Wooden” – ‘black metal using natural materials’ – and based on the darker drones of the second half of this performance I’m keen to discover what this talented-yet-frustratingly-oblique songwriter can make of such an appealing concept on forthcoming releases.

1988’s “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” is widely considered to be Public Enemy‘s (and hiphop’s) finest album, a reactionary barrage of sparse Bomb Squad beats, squealing sample stabs, and rhyme animal Chuck D’s we-ain’t-gonna-take-no-shit-from-the-Man lyrics. To say anticipation is running high is somewhat of an understatement. However, PE give over the first part of their slot to the recently reformed Bomb Squad, brothers Hank and Keith Shocklee playing a captivating set of “dub bass” (their take on dubstep, which they credit themselves for inventing!). Public Enemy finally take the stage to a rapturous reception from the crowd, Chuck D and Flavor Flav augmented by a full live band, DJ Lord and of course members of their Security Of The First World (Professor Griff would’ve been present too but for visa problems). “Bring The Noise” predictably gets us all into a frenzy, and as they take us through their landmark album the audience parties under the Spanish stars. Chuck D’s iconic bullhorn voice is as imposing as ever, Flavor cold lamps all over the big stage (“Yeah, Boooooooooy!”) and the S1Ws ‘dance’ in formation.

Public Enemy, Rockdelux stage, Primavera Sound 2008, 29-May-2008

When they get to “Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic” Chuck D announces this (tour) as the first time they’re playing this in 15 years, and as original PE DJ Terminator X is long retired (apparently now an ostrich farmer!) it serves as a fitting tribute. But having given up so much of their slot to the Bomb Squad, PE only get as far as playing “She Watch Channel Zero?!”, before ending off with a quick run-through of some more recent crowd-pleasers (“911 Is A Joke”, “Welcome To The Terrordome” and new song “Just Like That”) – leaving me sorely disappointed at missing out on such classics as “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” and my favourite PE song “Rebel Without A Pause”…

It’s then swiftly up to the CD Drome stage to catch the last part of Shipping News‘s set, and man are they playing a blinder, ending with a massive version of “Paper Lanterns (Zero Return)”. When I’d seen them previously they’d played as a trio with Jason Noble on bass, but here he is freed up to double up the riffage by the presence of Todd Cook, Louisville’s hardest working bassist. It leaves me regretting not having caught their whole performance, particularly as they don’t tour very often – but that is the only downside to this excellent festival: there is just too much good stuff on to have any hope in catching it all.

Shipping News, CD Drome stage, Primavera Sound, 29-May-2008

Portishead, Rockdelux stage, Primavera Sound, 29-May-2008

Portishead are undoubtedly the main Primavera drawcard for many and so the amphitheatre-style Rockdelux stage is packed with expectant punters, by far the biggest crush of the day. The start is delayed (messing up my plans to catch most of both their set and Boris, who play elsewhere a little later). They eventually kick off with “Silence”, the first track off new album “Third” – the spoken-word sample intro to that song almost perfectly-appropriate (it’s Portuguese, rather than Spanish). Geoff Barrow hammers out the rolling beat on a floor tom, while the screens on either side of the stage flicker with grainy black & white close-ups of the action on stage. The new material’s emphasis on live instrumentation is clear here as the band are able to faultlessly recreate the sound of their new record. It is a thrill to see them live for the first time, but as they’re playing the following night (in the seated Auditori) I make the tough choice to depart as they launch into “Hunter” in order to catch the Japanese sludge monsters rumbling into life nearby. I later learn that I miss one of those one-off gig experiences as Chuck D joins Portishead on stage to spit a few rhymes over the staccato industrial beats of “Machine Gun”…

Boris, who are playing the nearby ATP Stage, threaten to do a Godzilla stomp all over Beth Gibbons’s fragile vocals as they open with the crunchy noise of “Statement” – they are LOUD, and with the addition of an extra guitarist (Ghost mainman Michio Kurihara) the sludgy, distorted wail of sound is even more dense than usual. In contrast to the last time I saw them, I’m unfortunately unable to engage with them tonight, their schizophrenic, scuzzy barrage of noise proving to be an impenetrable and distancing barrier. Instead I just marvel at the slight Wata & her masterful playing – she spews out massive riffs incongruous with her diminutive frame, barely moving as she propels the band forward. I recognise “Pink” and “Farewell” but the rest sadly congeals into an eardrum-assaulting morass, a messy mix of Motörhead, hair metal and punk rock that brings a slightly disappointing close to a wonderful first day.

Boris, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 29-May-2008 Chart (weekly)

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