Video Savant: Portishead's “Machine Gun”

To commemorate Portishead's world-beating performance at Coachella Saturday, this edition of Video Savant focuses on “Machine Gun,” a track off Third, which comes out today.

“Machine Gun” is unlike anything in Portishead's canon, which is indicative of most of Third; all reports point to a reinvention of the group's sound, although I've yet to hear the whole album. The staccato bursts of distorted and martial drums (the titular weapon, it's safe to assume) evoke Nine Inch Nails and Tackhead, while an eerie analog synth (mimicking a forlorn Theremin groan) underscores Beth Gibbons' plaintive, curdled-whipped-cream vocals about AWOL saviors and the poison in her heart. Whereas previous Portishead releases have become coffeehouse standards, “Machine Gun” is more suitable for the battlefield or the abattoir.

Dig the blue-light starkness of this clip. Everything appears to be suffused in a Cold War-era bleakness. The massive Moog and/or Buchla synthesizers only add to the poignant, long-ago aura of this video. But Portishead avoid corny nostalgia and create a gripping work of art (which sounded great on the Coachella main stage, too).

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