Roly Porter used to be a member of Vex'd, a duo known for its abrasive, industrial approach to dubstep. While it's been a number of years since Porter abandoned not only the dancefloor but beats altogether, his music remains loud and visceral, full of seismic sub-bass and metallic shudders and black-hole reverb that swallows up everything around it. It's also head music, with stark post-classical elements—a somber scrap of strings, a mangled choir—hinting at a narrative lurking beneath the abstraction. Since the beginning of his solo career, Porter has nodded toward big themes: The 10 tracks on his 2011 debut, Aftertime, each referenced a different celestial body from Frank Herbert's Dune; his 2013 album Life Cycle of a Massive Star aimed squarely at the sublime, on a truly cosmic scale.
Porter's new album, Third Law, is his headiest yet; it also punches harder than anything he's done, contrasting waves of charred, overdriven texture with high, lonesome tones drifting across inky emptiness. Force and stillness are its twin poles. Its title references Newton's third law of motion (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction), while the cover art pictures the profile of an eyeball in extreme close-up, so close that the play of shadow across its glassy surface looks like the broad sweep of the night sky. Is it a coincidence that the image so closely resembles certain shots from Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity—both Clooney in his space helmetand the glinting curve of the earth itself? That film, with its violent chain reactions of exploding debris, was a harrowing case study in Newton's third law, and Porter's album similarly revels in both the kinetics of destruction and the ecstasy of weightlessness.
Just as he avoids repetitive beats, Porter rarely repeats musical elements as the album winds through its 52-minute run time, aside from the sub-bass rumble and elegiac strings. "Mass," a study for bouncing-ball kick drums and plucked synthesizers, plays out like a series of explosions in reverse, clouds of shrapnel snapping back into their shells over and over again. "Blind Blackening" swings the pendulum back toward the suffocating overdrive and wordless choral samples of the opener, "4001." "High Places," the album's quietest track—either headphones or a very good, very loud home stereo are recommended— shows off Porter's dynamic range while exploring the texture of scraped strings. "In Flight," the most obviously "electronic" thing here, plays with trembling pulses, while the final two cuts, "Departure Stage" and "Known Space," veer back into soundtrack territory.
To make music this abstract work, pacing is key, and Porter's proves masterful throughout—that's as true of individual tracks, which heave like massive bellows, as of the shape of the album as a whole. It seems significant that the first real melody we hear, a clarion synthesizer reminiscent of mid-'70s Tangerine Dream, appears only in the album's final five minutes—a reward, perhaps, for having made it through nearly an hour of edge-of-your-seat intensity. Third Law suggests that big-budget sci-fi directors who ignore Porter's work are seriously missing out. But he doesn’t need the silver screen to get his ideas across; this album has all the drama you could ask for on its own.
Modular 8: One of the best from last year- essential release on tri angle.