It’s kind of amazing how much Portishead has affected modern music. Their landscape-altering output only consisted of two LPs and a live album, but much of the downtempo, trip-hop electronica going on today can directly trace its roots back to the Bristol threesome (or Massive Attack, but I like Portishead more, so I name-check them more often). Kings & Queens is no exception to the downtempo family tree, and Jet in Carina owes much to its British forefathers.
But this is no mere tribute. Although Kings & Queens’ oversaturated emotions and massive beats are common to both artists, the direction of the tunes is entirely different. Portishead made/makes (if you count their new album as part of their groundbreaking work) paeans to solitude, disenchantment and discomfort musically and lyrically; they use emotions as a weapon to get points across. Kings & Queens does no such thing. Instead of making hollowed-out, icy-cold tracks, the members of K&Q layer on the sounds, coming to a sound that often evokes the morose glee of The Arcade Fire.
The permanently buzzing guitar, pulsing bass, vibrant keys and precise drumming propel the sound forward, not leaving any space to lag behind. Songwriter Rich Good makes sure that the tracks all have some element that the listener can hang on to, whether it be a line of lyrics, a hummable vocal fragment, or a distinctive instrumental moment. Even with the energy devoted to making these songs unique, the whole album flows in an incredibly satisfying way. Other than occasionally weird guitar work on opener “Who’s Thinking,” this is a chilled out, cerebral, deeply grooving album that commands attention and does not let go. When played in a room, the songs have the ability to change the whole atmosphere of a situation (and did several times while I was listening to review this).
Any song can be picked at random and extolled as a highlight. For example, “Signs” has a propulsive bass line that is contrasted by a heavily reverb-laden guitar line, creating a fascinating mood and tension. “Hold Your Fire” ratchets up in intensity from nothing until it sounds like the aforementioned Arcade Fire’s sweeping rock. “Origins of Things” has an incredibly tight interplay between bass and drums that excites like a lost Bloc Party song, circa Silent Alarm. Closer “Examples” turns a consistent four-on-the-floor bass drum beat into an eerie tune, which is harder to do than it sounds.
In terms of mood control, Kings & Queens Jet in Carina is one of the most engrossing records I’ve heard this year. The sound that the band crafted doesn’t just reside on CD; it gets into your head and into your mood. It’s gorgeous at times, heart-pounding at others, and morose at still other times, but throughout it all, a consistent mood is retained. If all trip-hop sounded like this, I’d be way more interested in the genre beyond Portishead. Highly recommended to fans of electronic music, downtempo, or soundtracks.