There’s something about the first 30 seconds of Creatures, the third release by Minneapolis band Portage, that feels like home; like an old friend you bump into and start talking with like you never stopped. The scene opens to bare bones drums on the slow-building Hold On, vocalist Trent Waterman beginning the story, “No, I haven’t found it, and that’s because / Love ain’t what you find, but what you trust.” The pace picks up from there and the band’s sound expands.
Waterman’s voice is a soft superpower, almost Andrew Bird-like at times but more focused, wrapped in rich, full instrumentation by bandmates Adam Rosenthal, Jason Hildebrandt, and Dave Mehling. There’s an earthy intimacy here not often found in a Twin Cities rock band, though the rock elements are there. Maybe it’s the group’s roots in Duluth, a city known for storytelling and folk music, or maybe it’s just that these four have clearly been true collaborators for a few releases now. Whatever the case, it’s working. Portage isn’t a band that boasts -- its greatest asset is a sound that comes from its members working together, not from straying to do their own things. Moments like the piano-laden outro to Settle Down are made best by the drums behind it. So many moments of the record, like the piano-laden outro to Settle Down, are driving without wandering, easy start-to-finish arcs that makes you want to start again.
Every line on Creatures sounds wholly believable, every word earnest. Waterman moves the story gracefully from one place to the next: songs of travel, of love, of trying to figure it all out. There’s sadness at times, in lines like “If you were somebody else / I would have been what you needed,” (Sitting in the Dark) but there’s no desperation here. Both sonically and lyrically there’s an exploring of the confusing, sometimes tragic elements of being human -- of being, indeed, a creature -- but always with an edge of determination to figure it all out.
This release is a clear next chapter in Portage’s story, linking onto a chain begun by The Unsalted Sea and Landings (the band’s first two albums), and likewise a real graduation. The band is tighter, more brief in its transitions, here. Portage sounds much more relaxed; not getting too loose but really getting into a rhythm, playing like a house with no sharp corners. Through and through, Creatures sounds like the music Portage has been wanting to make for a long time.
releases May 28, 2016
Recorded at The Hideaway in Minneapolis, MN. Engineered and mixed by Jason McGlone. Mastered by Huntley Miller. Cover art by Dan Mahoney. Portage is Trent Waterman (vocals, guitar), Adam Rosenthal (drums), Jason Hildebrandt (bass), and Dave Mehling (keys). Female vocals on tracks 1 and 3 by Lynn O'Brien.