As spring is here, I think it’s safe to declare that Roly Porter‘s Third Law is my favorite album of winter. It’s stayed in my CD rotation since January and I’m still enjoying it just as much, although I’ve been playing it louder and louder. It’s that sort of album: immersive, dynamic, and powerful; it sticks with the listener, and demands to be heard again.
When I made Third Law my top pick in the Electronic section of the Winter Music Preview, I’d only heard one track: the spectacular “4101.” That track features layer upon layer of static-filled drone, melded to HUGE drums and a repeated choral riff. Ben Frost’s seminal By the Throat immediately comes to mind. The association is cemented when strings start appearing, along with gentle electronic patter, on “In System,” displaying a delightful dynamic contrast. Porter has been honing this sound for a while, beginning as half of Vex’d and continuing through two albums on Subtext. The switch to Tri Angle sees his love of abstraction growing, while continuing to revolve around a compositional base.
This is the type of electronic music that pushes the field forward. Tri Angle doesn’t release much, but when it does, it looks to the future; Porter joins such label innovators as The Haxan Cloak and Forest Swords. This isn’t dance music, but it contains hints of dance music, along with industrial music, modern composition and the aforementioned drone. A little ambience is thrown in as seasoning.
At nearly every point in the recording, tiny sonic creatures play in the shadows while their larger siblings frolic up front. When the sub-bass rumbles, the walls shake (especially on the subterranean “Blind Blackening”); when the strings swoop, the ear leans forward to listen. Innovative stereo effects assure that the listening experience is three-dimensional. As terrifying as these barrages of noise may be, they are often offset by holiness. A church soloist’s note launches “High Places”, and never quite surrenders, despite the fact that the sonic world is blasted to pieces. When the track descends to near-silence, it’s with the thought that somewhere, something good remains, here or on another planet. At this point, one begins to think of Porter as more of a sound artist than a former dubstepper; apart from a stray beat here and there, little remains of his former career. It’s as if he’s found a ship and escaped the gravity of his past. On “In Flight,” one can even hear the consoles, the doors, the asteroid belts.
As fast as Porter is traveling, he’s unlikely to make the same album again. There’s no telling where his interstellar course will take him, but for now, Third Law is his defining statement. (Richard Allen)