Review Summary: Sleepytime Cynic.
You've got to hand it to Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert. The two have been a dynamic duo that have dabbled in genre after genre with nothing but positive results to show for it. And The Portal Tapes
are no exception.
Re-branded as Cynic in 2012, The Portal Tapes
are, in fact, a retouched result of Paul and Sean's 1995 outing with then-Cynic guitarist Jason Gobel and collaborators Aruna Abrams (vocals) and Chris Kringel (bass). And the distinction is an important one. While this may have the Cynic label on it, it can be called an authentic Cynic album as much as an Aeon Spoke album could be called a Cynic album - with a twist.
The Portal Tapes
capitalize on the darker sound of historical predecessor Focus
by kicking in with a dark, melancholic tone driven by loud, leading bass moans and by being framed with deceivingly complex overlapping guitar leads and Reinert's ever-mind boggling drumming. But the similarities end there. Rather than fronting an album dominated by vocoder-processed vocals and blistering fretwork, The Portal Tapes
present an album centered around Aruna's voice with more focus in the instrumental section lent to synthesizers than to guitars (as properly evidenced in the album's heaviest track, "Circle").
It's worth noting that The Portal Tapes
are also devoid of harsh vocals, opting instead to feature Aruna's lush, warm alto in the foreground with Paul's monotonous drone to augment the experience and offer a point of contrast. Instrumental focuses aside, the biggest factors separating the album from Cynic's more particular sound on albums like Focus
and Traced in Air
are its tempo and its tone. The Portal Tapes
, with all aforementioned detail provided, could best be described as Cynic slowed way down and split in tone between the low, almost brooding sounds of "Endless Endeavors" and "Cosmos" and upbeat tunes like "Mirror Child" and "Belong." And, pleasantly enough, given its demo release status, there is a logical flow from start to finish and the dips in tone only add character to the journey.
Unfortunately, for an album of just over 45 minutes, it tends to drone on a bit. This is mostly due to the slow tempo of the album and a pacing that makes the "drone" feel nothing but intentional. But, nevertheless, the deep grooves, light, spacey chords, and Aruna's soothing voice lend the album to one of two things: relaxation or boredom, depending on the state of the mind engaging the content. It's the perfect album to fall asleep to and, at times, a difficult album to stay awake to.
In the end, re-releasing The Portal Tapes
under the Cynic moniker does two things for the group. Primarily, it cements Paul and Sean's reputation for experimenting with different styles of music (with the sound of The Portal Tapes
falling just short of post-rock in and of itself). And finally, it adds another album to the Cynic apocrypha alongside Re-Traced
as an experimental album issued as a way of expanding the minds and musical realms of listeners.