When The Mary Onettes released their self-titled album, everyone was enthused. They crafted those pop songs coated in dense atmospherics that created contradicting emotions; the songs were warm, yet they offered up a cold and sterile mood. But, along the way, they’ve experienced various changes, most recently on Hit the Waves. That album encompassed more of a direct pop feeling to it, shying away from the dark craftsmanship that was present early on. Now we’ve got Portico. This record succeeds in both its brevity and its return to the days of old.
“Silence is a Gun” immediately starts with this delayed effect with an occasional note thrown in, affecting the listener almost immediately. But, while the song returns to the darker aesthetic, it doesn’t mean the group has left their pop ambitions at home. Instead, this song represents the work the band has put in since 2007, honing their sound, finally perfecting the best of both worlds. Similarly, “Naive Dream” takes the same approach, though this song goes straight for the point, offering jangling guitars from the get-go. while dreamy vocals rest atop the mix.
Then we move into slightly darker territory with “Ritual Mind,” which seems crafted to slow things down a bit in the structure of the record. You can just take the pacing alone, here, realizing that this is a song where you just let yourself go, immerse yourself in the realm crafted by the combination of guitars and keys. But, you’ll only have brief respite as “Everything Everything” comes along to move things back into the more danceable direction. It’s hazy house music, crafted by a tight-knit band, making it much more enjoyable than the previous approach The Mary Onettes took a year ago.
It’s all leading in one direction however, towards the opus titled “Bells for Stranger.” Here you’ll find the band employing more of a soundtrack approach, coating the song in layers of atmospherics and sparse notes before lyrics even enter the fold. Personally, I love how some of the notes evolve, going out of key as they dwindle in the space left behind by the slowly delivered vocals. It’s clear, here, that the band set out on the journey of writing Portico with something in mind, something that they had planned and mapped out carefully. And yet, they add more to that fold by using the album’s title track as an instrumental bookend to close things out.
For me, it’s a really refreshing piece of work. I’ve enjoyed the Mary Onettes for some time, but I’ll admit that from time to time they stay in one play, musically speaking. Portico is not that record. Instead, it’s an album with a purpose, a statement. All the songs have a lineage to the group’s sound, but they’re composed and organized in a fashion that ultimately rewards the listener.