Art in the Age of Automation - Portico Quartet

I've found that with the workload I've taken on recently, I can't do full reviews of audio gear as much as I'd like to. It's a reality to contend with, and in the face of that, I think it'd be a good idea to turn more of an eye towards music. Music was my original motivation behind reviewing audio gear, and my rigor towards it has only increased as this site has taken up more and more of my time. Album reviews seems like the most logical and tenable place to go, with that in mind. I'd like to think that with my background in music theory and practice, I have a valid perspective to offer here, but that's up to my readers - so we'll see!

In terms of motivation at a more granular level, I think I'll direct the majority of my time towards music that I enjoy, which is logical, I hope. I tend to stumble into a lot of music that isn't necessarily the most accessible, but that certainly isn't a hard-set reality. I'm also grateful to have a network of friends that never ceases to provide me with new and interesting music to listen to. This isn't to say that I'll avoid anything mainstream, and apologies if I'm coming across as hipster-ish or pretentious - I just like music a lot, and spend a tremendous portion of my time listening to it.

So, all that preface leads me to the first album which I'd like to give a perspective on. As indicated by the title of this post, that album would be "Art in the Age of Automation," the most recent album from Portico Quartet. Although their last album was a divergence from their normal instrumentation and style, with this, they have brought back on Keir Vine (who offers the hang drum instrumentation for which they have become known) and returned closer to their roots of jazz and jazz/electronic fusion.

This album ebbs and flows, saturated in electronically modified instrumentation. The intro track, "Endless" seems to swim through its ~4 minute runtime, with an undulating underlying bass-line which holds throughout. Another standout is "Objects to Place in a Tomb", which has a wonderful droning modulation of some horn in the background, and a very tasteful drum arrangement.

I would be remiss not to mention the uniqueness of the hang drum in their instrumentation. This rare instrument, visually similar to an inverted steel drum and tonally related, is certainly not the norm in a jazz quartet, even in free jazz. It's unique, percussively tonal addition is one of the reasons that I'm such a big fan of this group. Although it certainly flies in the face of traditional jazz (by a purist's standards, at least), I feel that their use of it as an integrated element is exciting and vitalizing. It adds a very soothing, engaging sound to a group that might not be as listenable without. As an introduction to less electronic, hang-integrated jazz, I highly recommend the group's debut album, "Knee Deep in the North Sea," which was Time Out's Jazz, Folk, and World album of the year in 2007, as well as Daniel Waples & Friends' album, "Lisn," both of which are very pleasant listens, and fairly accessible.

But more summarily, I feel that this album is an enticing and exciting addition to Portico Quartet's discography, and a much-appreciated shift back towards their previous works. The album isn't boring by any means, either, and features enough oddities and abnormalities to keep me actively listening, even as I write this. I give it a solid 8/10.