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Port Noir have spent most of their time as a band writing heavy, large-scale prog-rock tunes. So much so that most people used to attribute them to being a “Swedish Karnivool” or the Swedish version of Dead Letter Circus. All with some strong Leprous vibes thrown in for good measure. 2013’s ‘Puls‘ and 2016’s ‘Any Way The Wind Carries‘ are both thundering prog-rock albums full of sweeping vocal lines, huge riffs, busy drumming, and interesting rhythmic ideas and patterns. Both records showcasing a solid ear for melody no less. However, for me, that’s really all those releases were and are: decent prog-rock releases, yet ones that I could also get from a litany of other acts in the very same genre. (To those wondering why Port Noir are now signed to a mostly progressive music label like InsideOut, their past work is precisely why.)
However, with 2015’s sublime ‘Neon‘ EP, Port Noir experimented with more electronic elements, poppier riffs, and catchier vocals; weaving in well-produced synths and ear-worming hooks into their prog-rock blueprint. Songs like the big synth-wave moods of said EP’s eponymous cut and the hulking, vibrato-fuelled ‘Heathens‘ showed that the trio could execute both styles with finesse. While different, ‘Neon‘ proved they could still make it work; make it feel fresh. As it turns out, that EP was just a sign of what was to later come, informing the future of this band’s musical output more than anyone could’ve predicted back then.
And with ‘The New Routine‘, the three-piece have forgone their prog-rock sounds entirely, but it’s all for the better. As while Port Noir have let their hair down and unbuttoned their collars with this pristine new LP, they haven’t lost their top-notch penchant for great riffs and huge hooks; ironing out their songwriting until it’s all buttery-smooth. Sure, they could keep churning out releases like ‘Puls‘, but where would the fun and creativity be in doing that over and over? Exactly: it’d become stale very quickly and Port Noir as artists would stagnate. So, a massive change-up like this is not only needed, but severely welcomed too. In not repeating their prog selves, I don’t see the sound and structure of ‘The New Routine‘ getting as old, as fast. Port Noir have definitely simplified their music in many ways with ‘The New Routine‘, yet they’ve carved out one of their best records by doing so.
‘The New Routine‘ shows the band’s love and appreciation for poppy refrains, disco beats, and electronic instrumentals (think Daft Punk and The Weekend), as well as other forms of rock music a la Queens of The Stone Age. That is actually this album’s greatest strength; the mixing-pot of sounds and ideas pulled from the artists that these three dudes adore so much. It’s a great blend of their own individuality too, as well as what they’ve learned from the artists that they look up to. So while you receive plenty of giant, ballsy rock moments that wouldn’t be out of place on say, a Royal Blood album, it’s the new-wave synths that make this album’s finest tunes pop out even harder. Never over-bearing or shallow in their implementation, the backing bleeping synths heard in stand-outs like ‘Blow‘ or ‘Champagne‘ all carry purpose.
They also display a burning passion for the likes of Beastie Boys and Rage Against The Machine, in more ways than one. Just notice the lyrical and musical ‘Sabotage‘ homages found in ‘Old Fashioned‘, or the undeniable Tom Morello-inspired riffs and Rage-esque breakdowns heard on the title track and ‘13‘. What’s great about these moments when the band reference musical influences of theirs is that it’s never distracting or forced. It all feels natural. This really is all a new routine for Port Noir, with a noted love for who and what paved the way for acts like themselves to exist. Respect your elders and all jazz.
Love Anderson’s character-filled, sexy vocals glide like scissors through paper across the record. His control and range are stellar, as are the subtle moments of emotion he carefully places into his delivery. His vibrato and falsetto is something else, with his melodies making these choruses just so goddamn irresistible. Speaking of Love, the tone of his bass is not only filthier, but bigger this time-around too. His distorted, fuzzy four-string weapon of choice dominates these tracks with a thickened, biting groove; it’s the focal point of the album alongside his vocal performances. Man, the Death From Above 1979 that made ‘The Physical World‘ would be more than proud of this thing.
Andreas Hollstrand pulls double-duties with his slick guitar and well-edited analogue synths, both roles adding so much dynamic and drive to this album. Dark-wave synth wobbles, pitched vocal effects and fluttering snippets slide around crisp vocals and slip between kinetic punk guitar thrashes. It’s excellent stuff, with the excited guitar work that Andreas pumps out constantly being a real-high-point, with downright murderous riffs heard on ‘Young Bloods‘ and ‘Champagne‘. Couple all of this with Andreas “AW” Wiberg’s lively and bouncy drumming, and nearly all of these songs become doubly infectious.
As for the songs themselves, ‘The New Routine‘ is stacked with so many great moments, with heaps to love. For instance, ‘Old Fashioned‘ moves with rollicking riffs, a groovy flow, and sharpened rock edges, all colliding up against well-produced choruses, wailing synths, and smooth electro tendencies. It’s no mistake this was chosen as the opening song and the first single off the record, as it’s a statement about what dynamic the trio are aiming for with ‘The New Routine‘. Something that the delicious ‘Flawless‘ seriously reaffirms right afterwards too. It’s a rich new sound for a whole new breed, with my personal favourite ‘Champagne‘ taking this idea to it’s furthest point possible. Bolstered by the band’s best chorus and tightest song structure, this beauty sees them perfectly balancing out their blend of slick electronics, pop vocals and heavy guitars, creating some excellent tension-release moments. Polished, but gritty and satisfying all the same, this one is an absolute barn-burner for any crazy weekend bender.
The super-heavy, overly-distorted bass lines on the angsty ‘Young Bloods‘ could damn-well level mountains with churning low-end and lyrical anger, and that chorus could melt even the cruellest, coldest of hearts. The swaggering, explosive guitar runs on ‘Flawless‘ and ‘Blow‘, to name but two examples, ensure that Port Noir haven’t lost any of their fighting will; they may not be prog anymore but they sure as shit haven’t gone soft or uninspired. Speaking of, ‘Blow‘ takes you deep inside a seedy dance-club, defined by endless white lines of cocaine and a talented rock band not worried about getting too high-class and stylish. With dark, moody synths and soft, stripped-back vocal cuts from Love, the song kicks off nicely before expanding out with surging drum beats, walking bass-lines and strutting guitar riffs that all ooze confidence.
The vocoder loops on the rebellious ‘13‘ (whose politically-charged lyrics are where the album’s title is derived from) becomes a key motif for the band to riff over; both literally and figuratively. In layering the bouncing drums and on-edge drop D guitars around that core arrangement piece, and with some really cool choral-like synths, Port Noir take off into the stratosphere, getting into some fun pedal magic as well with that songs wicked guitar solo. Then, the glitchy and groovy ‘Define Us‘ purrs like a well-oiled engine, with the band never breaking a sweat and pulling out some interesting samples and synth sounds to lend some chiller vibes in the verses, with things growing more dynamic too. Then the chorus drops down with these sick, buzz-sawing guitars and Love’s wounded, vulnerable lyricism, all before a later tempo change in the electro-heavy outro keeps things moving forward but unexpectedly.
With all of this in mind, and if you’ll pardon the pun, ‘The New Routine‘ ain’t flawless. That being said, I don’t think that the band were ever trying to be so lofty or self-aggrandising; perhaps more commenting that it is our very imperfections that can make life beautiful and “perfect”, in its own special way. However, there is the odd moment that does hold the overall record back.
The first being fifth song, ‘Low Lights‘. Here, Port Noir strip off their bombastic riffs and every proceeding layer of their hardened rock surface. It’s a more restrained cut, focusing harder on looped instrumentals and airy synths, but does so a little too much. That approach by itself is more than fine, but I don’t think ‘Low Lights‘ is anywhere close to being the best example of what this band could achieve when they completely shift gears into the pop/electro realm. It’s the odd-one out, both structurally and tonally, becoming this low-key, forgettable mid-album point that doesn’t really entice or offer much intrigue or replay-ability. I can see what the band where going for, but it just gets in the way, quite honestly. Much like ‘Define Us‘ or ‘Blow‘ before it, this is Port Noir dabbling in experimentation, but this is one such experiment that I cannot say has paid-off all that well.
Lastly, whilst nowhere near a crippling issue or being a deal-breaker, the last three songs of ‘The New Routine‘ do feel somewhat similar to each other. On one hand, it’s the band hitting a consistent stride in the final stretch of their solid new album. But on the other hand, it does make the final batch of tracks not as special as what came before them; making these last few songs feel a little homogeneous. Those final tunes – the speedy, dissonant pace of ‘Drive‘, the familiar-sounding nature of ‘Down For Delight‘, and the indeed fitting closer ‘Out Of Line‘ – aren’t at all bad tracks, not in the slightest. And these three admittedly do make for a fine enough, comfortable wrap-up, truth be told. But neither songs are quite up to the task of topping or even matching the powerful numbers that started one of 2019’s more creative rock albums.
I don’t wish to discredit the bands previous releases too much, as past Port Noir material all has its own merit, but ‘The New Routine’ just sounds so much more authentic towards Port Noir’s individual personal vision and tastes. It’s the best Love Anderson has ever sounded on the bass and behind the mic, with Andreas Hollstrand being the album’s unsung hero with his insane guitar and synth out-put, and drummer Andreas “AW” Wiberg gives his all behind the kit, sitting deep in these songs’ pocket, playing for them beautifully so. ‘The New Routine’ is an honest, fresh rock record informed by so much more than just rock and roll. It’s one of those great releases curated by a band who doesn’t listen to or adhere to a single genre, but many; studying and learning from the classics yet still imbuing it all with their own sense of personality.
In Port Noir borrowing from those that have come before them, and pulling from various pop/electronic artists, they’re confidently making their own brand of cool, calculated and controlled rock music. While sitting somewhere between Rage Against The Machine, Queens Of The Stone Age, Death From Above 1979, Daft Punk and The Weekend, it always feels like Port Noir. It’s still decidedly them, at the end of the day. Despite one or two bumps in this record’s mostly well-paved road, ‘The New Routine’ is a glistening, driven, competent and well-written LP that gifts many glorious bangers, huge new tunes like ‘Old Fashioned’, ‘Flawless’, ‘Blow’, ‘Young Bloods’ and ‘Champagne’. This all leads me to one final conclusion: Port Noir are quickly, but surely, diving headfirst into their own defined lane-way. These guys are all dressed up, and they’ve sure as hell got somewhere to go!
- Old Fashioned
- Low Lights
- Young Bloods
- Define Us
- Down For Delight
- Out Of Line
‘The New Routine’ is out now!