I’d seen their intriguingly ambiguous name on various fliers, but I had yet to check them out. Then I found out P.O.R.T.A.L. is an acronym for People of Revolutionary Thought and Living. That got me a little closer to understanding what they do, but I still couldn’t peg them.
Ahead of the release of their new self-titled EP, I decided it was time to unravel the mystery. A visit to their Web site turned up a surprising result. It’s not often that I hear a local band and think, “I’ll bet these guys listen to a lot of Zappa.” And Floyd. And Nine Inch Nails. And Can; definitely Can.
Although they have a few core members, P.O.R.T.A.L. is more of a collective than a band. The concept, says vocalist, sax player, keyboardist and cowbell player Scott Harding, is being open to essentially any musician who wants to take part—within reason. It makes for an eclectic—and very trippy—sound.
Most of their tunes are long (the shortest is the satirical “Docilifan,” which comes in at 4 minutes, 34 seconds) and careen between electronica and the jammier side of psychedelic rock.
This is embodied by the song “Geppeto’s Dream,” a tune that starts out with a strange melody invocative of sunken ships and broken dolls in hurricane-torn attics. Then comes an evil robot of an electronic drum beat. Guitar and keys subsequently join the fray and make for an overall creepy, but palatable, tune.
Harding serves as the band’s primary songwriter. JR Mathson, with whom Harding grew up in Evanston, Wyoming, programs beat samples and plays bass. Justin Favell provides vocals as well as the group’s signature spaced-out yet calculated guitar leads. Chava Godinez is on drums and Tobey Couture, whose resume includes the Kryptones, Guerrilla Jazz and a few other Valley Isle bands, is on keys. Also playing important roles are videographer and visual effects artist Toney Chimienti and digital visual artist Benjamen Christ, who designed their tripped-out album art.
Despite appearances, it’s clear these guys didn’t get the idea to start making music after eating mushrooms and listening to Billy Breathes on the beach. The tunes on their EP are heavy on synth, beat box and of course effects pedals, but a song can shift modes at the drop of a Frisbee. My personal favorite is “In A Row.” It’s got an incredibly catchy melody (think the Doors’ “Love Street” or the bridge from “L’America”), and breaks into a much darker and heavier chorus.
P.O.R.T.A.L. started gigging on Maui in 2007, and they faced some pretty tough crowds at first—audiences that weren’t expecting a band to play protracted electro jams for three hours with no breaks. But they seem to have amassed a following, partly online. They’ve got some stuff up on MySpace and garageband.com and say they’ve gotten positive listener feedback from as far away as Bangkok, Austria and the U.K. MTW