Much like the world of its creationthat of spring 2020, in the early phase of the Covid-19 shutdownthis Terrain is a landscape both familiar and strange. The ingredients of Portico Quartet's one-of-a-kind sound are recognizably there: the nebulous electronic soundscaping, the organic and gently compelling rhythms, the resonant tone of the hang drum which always feels beamed in from the beach of some distant planet. Like every album of theirs, though, it's a surprising step sideways from the previous one as much as a recognizable continuation.
There aren't individual compositions here, but rather a continuous suite which feels grown rather than written. Following the dense ambient-spacey Art in the Age of Automation (Gondwana, 2017) and the more loosely dreamlike Memory Streams (Gondwana, 2019), this outing simply lets the members' instrumental voices roam without building loops and layers. Circular saxophone lines and mantric hang-drum patterns float through the air while the swirling atmospheres stay elusive and elastic. The sequence starts in territory more amorphous and abstract than ever, then increasingly settles into rhythmic grooving until it ends up feeling as vibrant and full of life as anything they've done.
While Terrain is the band's sparsest and shortest work, it also feels the most vast. There is always a steady flow throughout even though things are in constant flux. The strange isolation of pandemic life certainly shapes the feel this experience, but nonetheless gets balanced with life and warmth and, most importantly, connection. Bits and pieces of everything from Portico's past are scattered throughout, going back to the island-flavored acoustic jazz of their beginnings as well as their most trance-heavy brushes with EDM. This new landscape has room to wrap up all those little things, past and present, into something unexpected and alien in the most compelling ways.