The Portraits

Sensory Pulse Records, 2009


REVIEW BY: Giselle Nguyen


On the cover of Timescape, a tiny redheaded toddler stands on a giant sundial as a vast landscape stretches behind her. This marriage of time and nature is the defining theme of Anglo-Irish folk group The Portraits’ second and latest record, a blissfully varied collection of songs brimming with subtle emotions and an array of eclectic instruments.

The best thing about this album is that it doesn’t evoke an immediate reaction. My first listen was a nonchalantly unimpressed wade through the 40 minutes that make up the record, and it made very little impact – but on each listen since, I’ve been able to uncover something subtle that I love in each pithy little song. Perhaps saying so isn’t really professional in the sense that album reviews are supposed to be – after all, aren’t we supposed to remain somewhat objective?

But this is exactly the point of Timescape. It allows us to throw away our inhibitions and freefall into an unexplored world, forging a very real personal connection with Jeremy and Lorraine Millington, the brains behind The Portraits who also have a deeply personal connection themselves as creative collaborators for more than a decade and, more recently, husband and wife.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The intro and verse of the opening track “Poppy Song” are not particularly striking, but the group’s delicate warmth comes flooding in as soon as the bright chorus hits. Lorraine’s breezy vocals, reminiscent of early Andrea Corr, are beautifully underscored with the simple accompaniment as she paints an evergreen picture: “Tell me eternal green / Under your endless sky / How you are so serene / Knowing all the truth you hide?”

This melding point of nature and time is explored further in the nine tracks that follow, all awash in both cynicism and hope. From the facelessness of celebrity in the darker flavour of “Fame” to the finiteness of life explored through earthen metaphor in “Precious Red,” Jeremy and Lorraine offer a fresh outlook on both the bright and dark sides of life using mental scenery created both through words and music.

The employment of instruments such as cellos, ethnic flutes and trumpets, as well as the usual piano and guitar, makes Timescape an experience that really fits its name. It seems to borrow from world music, with African-inspired bongos providing the beat for many of the songs. In both a musical and lyrical sense, this disc shows intelligence and diversity, focusing on all aspects of life to which anyone can relate as well as on different facets of musical composition and innovation.

“Real World” illustrates this perfectly. Beginning with a harmonised refrain, it proceeds to lurch into an upbeat ditty about the transition from childhood into adulthood whilst a jangling percussion ensemble rattles cheerily over an effervescent harmony. Though the subject matter is far from cheery, The Portraits make it gorgeously listenable – and make me think that maybe “progressing into the real world” won’t be so bad.

There are some questionable decisions sometimes, such as the very mechanical-sounding drum fade at the start of “Poppy Song,” which detracts from the lithe feeling of the rest of the song, and the production of the songs could do with more polishing as it feels a little rough around the edges at times. But sometimes it’s this rawness that makes it feel the most personal, like an honest poem scribbled hastily on a piece of paper.

If this record doesn’t strike you straight away, don’t give up hope – I’m not saying that it’s perfect, but it is overflowing with so much promise and passion. Put it on your iPod and take a walk down to a lake or river on a warm day, and sit there soaking in the world around you and the radiance of this music. I promise you it will be worth the effort.

Rating: A

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© 2009 Giselle Nguyen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sensory Pulse Records, and is used for informational purposes only.