Alexander Tucker’s equal-opportunity plumbing of psych, drone and folk will sound familiar to anyone who collected records by Light and Flying Saucer Attack last decade: Whispered vocals are set adrift as pedal-driven drones and loops snake past finger-picked acoustic guitar in a low-key exercise in opaqueness.
Listen long enough to the British experimentalist’s third studio album, though, and beyond that initial familiarity, you’ll encounter a wealth of impressive details that are in line with Tucker’s storied résumé. He spent the ’90s singing in the hardcore band Suction and the post-hardcore band Unhome, and from there, he plunged into drone, touring with Füxa and eventually working with a member of SunnO))). A self-titled, self-recorded album came out in 2000, followed by the studio efforts Old Fog and Furrowed Brow.
Portal starts slowly with “Poltergeists Grazing”—the title befitting its ghostly wandering—and Tucker’s thin voice is perfectly audible and his lyrics intelligible, which isn’t always the case with this strain of psychedelia. The swirling “Veins to the Sky” and the noisier “Omnibaron” are rewarding, but “Husks” doesn’t attempt anything new. That’s left to “Bell Jars,” an exciting centerpiece that turns the tide of the record. The song has a slippery sway and the prettiest sounds here, with Tucker’s voice entering only after several minutes.
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The final three songs maintain that chaotic yet meditative beauty. The instrumental “Energy for Dead Plants” summons throbbing ambiance and minimalist classical influences, while “Another World” is the album’s shortest track and perhaps its purest representation of folk music, despite mean waves of distortion. Then there’s “Here,” an atmospheric eight-minute opus on which Tucker adopts a kind of chant to tether the vast sprawl. By that point, Portal has provided ample proof that Tucker is the real deal.