Chris Russell turns toward the dark side and gets sonically spare on his deep new release, Portal. This is another release I’d put more in the grey ambient category rather than flat-out dark. It’s got its fair share of it, doled out in groaning bass pads and tortured electronics, but Russell also infuses it with a lot of breadth, a lot of openness that sets it apart from its more cloying cousin, isolationist ambient. It feels like exploring dark physical spaces as opposed to grim mental states A track like “Dolmen” takes it power from its geological movement and simple interaction of pads. With it slow pace, it pulls the listener in and down without any real edges to disturb the flow. The opening track, “Abyss,” takes a similar route but does carry a bit of sonic serration, nice gritty textures around the edges and sound-warbles that ramp up the dark sensibility. Russell tempers his flow in spots with percussive elements that have a muted industrial clamor to them. Listen to “Enceladus,” where that sound clatters and reverberates against sparse, haunted sounds and wavering tremolo winds. “Outlands” is full of sudden sounds, from chimes to snarls to rattles. Russell paints a rich picture here of some abandoned somewhere that has retained its share of ghosts, a place you know you probably shouldn’t be but can’t move away from. Portal is one of those discs that has the power to soothe while it unsettles–not that the unsettling aspect is all that pronounced. But it’s there in touches of dissonance and the urgings of the low end, and it gets to you. Yet it’s never something you consciously fight against. The disc’s landscape is much too engaging for that. This is a definite headphone listen; Russell is playing with a lot of small sounds to texture his strong flows. So get the phones on, settle in, and drop into Portal.
Available from Relaxed Machinery.