On his latest effort, South African producer Portable continues to mesmerise with his effortlessly dynamic flow of sounds, styles and signatures, with some truly extraordinary moments to saviour along the way.
The creation of music can accommodate many flows, a collection of streams that channel the emotional, the physical, a sense of place and a sense of identity. Some of the most significant genres or bodies of work to come out of music in the during the last century and this all speak to people on a audial frequency, but still find time to build a sense of atmosphere that points to somewhere perhaps less well known, a location or country even that is being highlighted for us to get some insight into. Electronic Music, which in many ways relies on the melodies, drums and samples to do the talking, acts as a conduit to these mental explorations, seeking out the meaning to the past, present and future within a template kind of format, allowing the listener in many ways to become involved within the rhythms and tones. Cultural identities have always been a key feature of many forms of music, and within the Electronic world this importance becomes intertwined with experimentation of differing forms, allowing for the rich lexicon that persists between cultures to become further embedded within one another. The vibe that is given off from these forms of cross-pollination is one of continually seeking new connections, soaring above the ground level and seeing how one path can lead to another, and how we as music lovers and people can begin to appreciate new forms of expressionism. Some artists have always placed a significance on understanding how all these streams can be accommodated within their work, which often takes the form of many genres sitting alongside one another within a warm melting pot of enriching motifs. The boundaries become pushed outwards, exploration identified as a must, with each record signifying another step onwards along a connection that conjoins networks together, building bridges that will continue to mean something for years to come. The creator becomes the curator, binding elements together that pair substance with style effortlessly, crafting meaning with their melodies and leading forwards with their rhythms, and when you dive into their discographies every stanza is filled with purpose, presence and dynamism.
One such artist who has always remained conscious of the ways in which streams can come together is South African producer Alan Abrahams, who is perhaps best known for his work under the Portable name. Born and raised within the post-Apartheid era within the country, Abrahams moved to London to establish his music career alongside Lerato Khati, with whom he would co-found the label Sud Electronics with, and it was at this time when he began recording music as Portable. His early work under the name would focus on the merging of future leaning electronics with a myriad of traditional African sounds that he knew from his youth, and the results are a series of albums that to this day sound invigorating, engaging and effortlessly dynamic. The early 2000s output certainly felt reflective of someone who absorbed the endless stream of goodness that followed from the 80s and 90s, with a clear atmospherical direction and a sense of continually leaning towards the sound of tomorrow remaining as key motifs within the Portable sound. Utilising Techno, IDM and Minimal as the core bases, Abrahams would rotate around the anchors and continually find space within the rhythms to include delightful melodic sequences, ones which would dance around the kicks in a captivating manner, and this would be a theme that would follow his discography for a good while. House would become another important genre within his work as time passed, reflecting his deep affection for Chicago House that saw vocalism become a key feature within a number of releases. His releases under the Bodycode name, with the first coming in 2006, focused more on this influence, and complemented perfectly the rich polyrhythmic notions of Portable, and only furthered listeners enjoyment when engaging with his works. Following 10 years in London, Abrahams would live in Lisbon for 5, then Berlin for the same amount of time, before settling in Paris where he continues to live and work, along with forming the Khoi Khoi imprint (named after the pre-colonial tribes in the South African region where he grew up). Its hard to deny the ingenious feels that flow from Abraham's body of work, with the music found within playing with the heart strings as much as it does the mind, with a bountiful array of styles being utilised to convey notions of bridging together South African sounds with cutting edge electronica. His discography is, as a result, indefinitely engaging, with some of our favourite releases under the Portable name including the gloriously beautiful 'Version' LP, which arrived in 2005; the rhythmically bombastic 'Powers of Ten', which landed in 2007; the percussive laden dream that is 'Patterns and Signals', which arrived in 2001; the beautiful notions of 'The San', which arrived in 2006; the emotive and highly charged 'A Deeper Love', which was released in 2012; the high octane 'Sportable' release, which arrived in 2014; the vocal house beauty that is 'Surrender', which also came out in 2014; the future leaning excellence found within the 'Believing' record, that landed in 2018; and finally, his much lauded 2020 effort 'The Transit of Mercury'. Under the Bodycode name, be sure to check out the excellent albums 'The Conservation of Electric Charge' (2006) and 'Immune' (2008), along with the 'A New To Bloodmoon' EP, which arrived in 2019. Abrahams, it seems, has always had a strong vision for how his music would come across, and when you wonder around through his lengthy discography you see a mind at work that is always looking to pair new or established streams with one another. From his expansive and in many ways groundbreaking IDM leaning efforts of his early career, through to his extensive forays into melodic led House and Techno, there is no denying that Abrahams has contributed enormously to the electronic music lexicon, all the while finding space to honour his roots and the music that came from it. His pairing of complex African rhythms with equally complex analog electronics is simply a joy to behold, and this duality being something that continues to influence his work to this day. Be sure to go and check out his previous works, there is so much excellence to discover.
And now we turn to his latest effort as Portable, 'My Sentient Shadow', which lands via Parisian label Circus Company. From the off this record immediately tantalises, its hooks softly embracing us as melodic corners are turned, rhythmic milestones are passed, and bountiful vocal lines abound from within the deep, all of which arrive in differing ways and with differing meanings. The balance of styles is managed superbly, with each track containing a distinctiveness about it that sits very well indeed alongside its audial siblings, with the overall picture one of boundless vision and motion. Abrahams really pushes the boat out here to cover all bases of his broad reaching sound, as a eye watering amount of strains of his soundscape come together to deliver a electronic laden experience like no other. This might just be his finest LP effort to date, an accumulation of his previous efforts aligning with each other to help serve up a vibe that is hard to deny, easy to become enamoured with and very difficult to get out of your head once the needle stops playing - it seems focused on keeping that smile on your face for days to come. So, without further delay, lets dive into this sonically dynamic and atmospherically cosmic piece o'wax, and drift into the realms of Portable....
Up first comes 'The Simulacrum', and this one begins with distant sounding features making their presence known. What emerges across the pan is a glassy and full chord progression, with plenty of environmental touches thrown in to add vibrancy and flavour, and before long we descend into the main thrust of the rhythm, with the broken beat arriving to take the album into new heights. The keys seem content to morph and flux between the rhythms, their forms distorting under the pressure of effects, with this melting of texture working brilliantly alongside the introduction of multiple percussive lines that help to create a sense of quietly evolving chaos. The chords stay true and emerge from the heat unscathed, but as an opener it helps to set the tone for things to come - bombastically brilliant. 'The Spacetime Continuum' comes next, and this one begins with Abraham's familiar vocal presence to get things going. The intro helps to establish the interrelationship between the vocals and a simmering melodic underbelly, with the two elements given plenty of time to get to know one another, but before long everything gives way and we are left with a proper Chicago House leaning beat to weave around. The track then builds itself up very neatly indeed, with hi hats and other light elements placed within the stanzas to add fuel to the momentum. Abrahams' compelling vocal delivery comes to the fore soon after, and such is the way that he commands the space up top you find yourself imagining how vocals would continue to sound when they are not present, his words lapping over the rhythms underneath with purpose. The track then takes a big dip downwards in energy, and here we see perceptions shift to accommodate a new kind of feeling, one where the bass line doubles up, the drums feel somewhat more force orientated, and all of this is engineered through a excellent understanding of shifting perceptions, but also having mastered the art of segment progression. The rhythms play out, and we are nodding along to the glimmering stars. Up next comes 'Foreign To You', which features NiQ E, and this one begins with the melodic progression to get things going. The keys are the most emotive yet, carefully placing themselves above the emerging broken beat pattern that skips and drifts underneath with such eagerness, and with these two elements operating so well along one another we are graced with the presence of NiQ E, who's voice touches the chords at all the right moments. Space management is key here, and Abrahams nails the notion of adding further elements to work alongside NiQ E's voice, who also does a superb job at mirroring the ever evolving nature of the instrumentals. Light acid notes sit alongside delicate piano sequences within the mixture, with whirlpools crafted by NiQ that seem destined to be filled by something wondrous. What a track this one is.
'The Self Assembling' comes next, and this one begins with some real warmth to it. The chords breeze into life up above a scattering of rhythmic elements, all of which work over time to push onwards and upwards the atmosphere to new heights, and as we hit the sweet spot this is when the kicks arrive to take us all away. The track stays on course with an impeccable sway, searching for the next space to grow into with each passing moment, as we continue to embrace the glowing analogue richness that floats by. The playful notions that embrace one another within the top ends are a pure joy to witness, our eyes flickering from left to right in order to capture every single aspect of its deep essence, and as the track takes a dip in energy we are reminded of the pure melodic energy on display. We nod along, firmly enraptured by the fury and the passion, forever standing witness to a glorious display of vibrancy that will not leave our minds any time soon. 'Cages' comes sparkling into life next, and this one is heavy on the reverb. The texture is to die for, like water trickling down a metallic bowl, bouncing off the sides and feeding into larger bodies, as the most heavenly of pads seep down from the tap, with the two mixing together within the catchment area. The track then sinks into itself, seeking a new form which arrives in a shift in chordal placement, a classy bass line that interlinks itself with the melody, and rhythmically intuitive percussive lines. There's a whole world in here, you just gotta reach out a little bit more and touch it. Utterly beguiling. Up next comes 'I Feel Stronger Now', , and this one shifts the perspective into a new realm. The tempo and feel is more House orientated, with plenty of Abraham's impeccable touches found within to add plenty of flavour, whilst the vocal work pulls the listener around to help them feel out every corner of the soundscape. The instrumental sections are a real delight, with plenty of elements left to reveal as we turn corners, pass under bridges and seek out over distant horizon lines, as Abraham's voice keeps on coming back to add some soulful bite to proceedings. Coming up from the depths, it seeks to entice, and entice it does - with gusto.
'We Exist' arrives next, with this cut featuring Mandy Alexander, and immediately we are thrust into a new world all together. The groove that emerges is up front, the light acid line mixes and merges within the middle ends, the background chords light up the scenery, and of course the vocals do heaps to add character and flavour, and like the wind there is plenty of dynamism to be found within the mix. As time passes we dip and dive amongst varying undulations that Abraham places, our souls being scooped up by invisible forces and place up high above the crests before falling deep down into the caverns of existence, with this relationship exemplified by the extended instrumental sections that give over something very special indeed. The vocals return to the fore at all the right moments, seeking out their space as if they never left, and the instrumentals are more than happy to oblige. Heavy weight stuff. 'Ripple Effect' comes next, and this one takes the vibe down a little bit. The groove is intensely groovy, even though it is slowed down a fair amount, and the vocals that slide into view add a kind of EBM motif that fuels the feelings which underpin the motions. The drums create plenty of space for growth, as the hypnotic waves continue to wash over the listener with plenty of feeling, forever locking us into the momentum - and its one we are happy to be within forever. To wrap things up, we have 'Fractal Distortion', and this one throws one final curveball at us. The frequency is one that leans towards the techno side of things, easing us in and out of a series of tones that capture a dynamic, ever lasting energy that is hard to let go of. We drift along the top ends, seek out new futures through the middle, and flux all around within the bottom ends, exceeding all expectations as we carefully float along the soothing yet restless ocean. Its a final statement from a producer with a lot on his mind, and the capabilities to speak what he sees with such flawless intent, with every song here contributing to a greater, dynamic whole that seeks out new ways of feeling music. Stunning, simply stunning.
Threads and how they weave together will always remain a form of artistry, and just how this sense of weaving comes whole is up to the person behind it all, in many ways. Some find the spaces between genres, others perfect their take on a singular notion, but others seem to do both at the drop of a hat. The body of work that Alan Abrahams has released as Portable - indeed, as his other aliases as well - is nothing short of extraordinary, combining a number of influences into a never ending production line of thoughtful, well considered releases. Each album contributes to his world, every time adding a new trait to the character of a universe that feels well trodded, thought out and realised. This new album is no different, and in many ways seems to encapsulate perfectly everything that he has looked to achieve throughout his distinguished career. The vocal laden House stunners, the enriching captivating electronixs, the energetic inbetweens, it all comes together as a package that provides you with a little bit of what you know and a whole lot of things that are there to be relished. An album for the ages.
Support the troops: