I love Portishead’s first album, Dummy. It’s perfect listening when driving home late at night by yourself, and it’s also perfect for when you’re in a kind of melancholy mood. And I swear, the song Roads? Is one of the most depressing songs ever. It is pure, crushing loneliness, music that could make even the happiest person in the world start to feel down. Beth Gibbons has the most incredible voice I’ve ever heard.
Their later stuff, though…eh, not so much. Doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Just doesn’t feel as solid as Dummy. However, this one track from their third album, Machine Gun, is possibly one of the band’s greatest accomplishments:
I picked this video because it’s set to clips from one of my favorite movies, Tetsuo the Iron Man, directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, which is totally appropriate in some ways.
I didn’t like it much at first. It felt like that percussion was drilling into my skull and it was annoying. But it grew on me. The juxtaposition of that relentless pounding with Beth’s vocals is nuts. Her voice is pure sorrow and regret, contrasting so sharply with those drums that it hurts. And then that synthesizer comes in at the end, trying its best to maybe sound a bit uplifting, but it’s so weak and sickly sounding, like a glimmer of hope fizzling out shortly after being discovered.
If Other Sleep has a theme song, this is it. It was this track that helped me out of a bind when I was writing, a song I repeatedly return to in order to get my mind in the right space for working on the story. It’s a staggering piece of music.