archiv: portal

archive review originally posted on the losing today site c. 2003 ……

PORTAL
GONE BUT NOT FORGIVEN / PREHISTORY
(make mine music)

Two releases to mark the passing (for now anyway) of Portal. Keen observers or people who’ve been dragged screaming and kicking to these pages should really need no introduction to Portal better known to the authorities at large as Scott Sinfield. Mr Sinfield has over the course of 10 years peppered our hi-fi with some of the most sublime slices of crafted guitar based resonance that’s been our fortune to hear. Spread across over 30 plus releases that include 6 bonafide full lengths and a plethora of compilation appearances and limited mail order only CD-r’s Sinfield has proven to be one of the undergrounds chief exponents of chilled epiphanies and colourfully contoured melodic montages.

Why I mention this is beyond me because it makes me appear like a right dork – but I have managed to lose not only a press release but two press releases that said I have the CD’s which sadly is not the case for fellow label mates August Stars whose CD ‘Music for Twilight’ appears to have gone for a play with the other CD’s and half dressed or so it would seem given that I have both the press release and the sleeve – Schengen’s ’the Beijing of our Career’ on the other hand is fine and sending our beleaguered hi-fi into states of rapture.

Still these two releases are seriously limited issues and are sure to fly out faster than sun hats on a sunny day though those nice people at Normans Records may have a few spares should you have trouble tracking down. As said strictly limited ’Gone but not forgiven’ with only a 520 pressing run and basically deleted on the day of release is an eleven track ‘best of’ of sorts while ’Prehistory’ is a 120 only mail order cd-r featuring, as the title hints, ultra rare pre debut Earworm release ’Hydro-Electric’ material previously only available on an extremely limited Xmas freebie cassette issued to friends and family in the year of the great Xmas card shortage that being 2000.

‘Prehistory’ is a remarkable document, three quarters of which is made up of recordings noted by the Sinfield in the brief liner notes in typically self effacing attitude as done ’with a cheap guitar, a few effects pedals, an ancient drum machine and a 4 track cassette’ which in some ways had me recalling an episode of Hancock’s Half Hour, notably the ’Poetry Society’ where chief whipping boy and ’dolt’ Bill Kerr is elevated to the ranks of intellectual extraordinaire by an anarchic underground gathering of literary gymnasts and after delivering his surreally oddball prose claims ‘it wasn’t one of my best’. Despite the originators claim that they are works in progress, you can clearly see that even at such an early stage in sound development Sinfield already had a sense of spatial awareness and an air of orchestrating the very moods and emotions that govern us take for example the contrasting ’Discovering’ and ’Eclipse’ – the former revealing a numbed sense of closure the latter bathed in a relieved like stillness as though countering an after the storm sereneness. Influenced in the main by Robin Guthrie and Vini Reilly (Durutti Column) the latter to whom the lilting cascade of ’Celebration (Vini)’ is dedicated, Sinfield has like fellow Make Mine Music cohort Jon Atwood (Yellow 6) been one of the great unsung heroes of dream pop ’Shifting’ featured here in an alternate take (and perhaps personally for me the cut that defines the Portal sound in a nutshell) is as affecting and touching as it beautifully and goes some way to ensuring the enduring legacy of his mercurial landscapes – you just don’t know it yet. Elsewhere there’s the austere lost at sea psyche enhanced ’N.I.Q’ paying nods to New Zealand’s Roy Montgomery while the featured mix of ’Hydro-Electric’ is perhaps better than the finished product given its humanised by its raw spectral quality and the momentarily lapses in timing. ’Find the Voice’ is Schengen’s retread of ’Lost’ and featured originally on the celebrated though sadly short lived (and if I’m not mistaken) Leeds based cassette zine ’Aluminaut’. Rounding the pack with a simply gorgeous version of Simon and Garfunkel’s ’Homeward Bound’ which was intended for a tribute album that never saw the light of day made all the more charming by Rachel Hughes’ lulling vocal hiccups a la Liz Fraser.

Likewise ’Gone but not forgiven’ is packed with untold nuggets gathering together 11 tracks and featuring rare radio session cuts, alternate versions, unreleased remixes and long deleted singles (’July’, ’Series 1’ and ’Sometimes I’m lost’ – the latter a Schengen recast of the track ’Lost’ suitably draped on this occasion with their trademark down tempo lunatic ambience). Among the goodies a sublimely de-stressing star gazing statuesque re-cut of ’Even the Sun’ hic originally appeared in limited quantities via Alice in Wonderland. Two live cuts culled from an Oxford show in 2004 see the glacial resonance of ’An open sky’ rubbing shoulders with the soft allure of ’Shifting’ as said in passing elsewhere here a track where the word perfection doesn’t adequately begin to describe its underlying class. A brace of tracks from a Dutch internet radio session sees ’Sometimes’ endowed with a seductively shimmering funk-torch-tronic edge while the scratched effects laden and longing jet stream pop of ’Bloodline’ is made of the stuff that makes grown men swoon. The previously unreleased ’Trace’ is stripped bare and given a church like elegance by Epic 45 and emerges from the other side sounding not unlike the heaven bound otherworldliness as more associated with Heather Duby while the crushing and tear inducing ’Waves and Echoes’ (alternate mix) perhaps prophetically bades farewell to this particular chapter in Sinfield’s career. Portal – forgiven but not forgotten. You need these.

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