Like Portishead-meets-Wilco (okay, not really)

I don’t like to begin a review with a comparison, but in the case of Portico, I can’t help it: singer Lyn Heinemann sounds a hell of a lot like Kathleen Edwards, from the range right down to the enunciation. In fact, if I hadn’t seen the band’s promotional photos, I would probably think that “Lyn Heinemann” was just an alias, and that it actually was Edwards on lead vocal duties.

But luckily for Portico, the story doesn’t end there. While Edwards sticks to rootsy, Portico’s latest album, First Neighbours, falls much more on the “alt.” side of things; the guitars are almost entirely electric, and Heinemann typically plays with a gritty, distorted tone, even when strumming an old-timey folk waltz. The band occasionally introduces a baroque string section to augment its power trio set up, also making room for swells of mournful horns.

Despite its garage rock inclinations, the band never fully lets loose; aside from the occasional bizarre time signature, Mimi Mahovlich (bass) and Greg Murray (drums) are rarely flashy, instead placing the focus on Heinemann’s imagistic lyrics. She rarely sounds like she’s singing about herself, and her fondness for historical narratives makes Portico resemble the Decemberists (although, to be fair, she’s is much more grounded in reality than the fantastical Colin Meloy). Based on the evidence here, it sounds like Heinemann majored in Canadian history: “The Battle of Duck Lake” describes a conflict between Canadian government forces and Métis inhabitants; “Hallmark Poultry Ltd.” concerns East Vancouver prostitution; “Louis Riel Leaves the Collège de Montréal” is about exactly what it sounds like.

But Heinemann is equally successful when singing about personal matters: “Unreunion” is possibly the least romantic love song ever, with the fantastically biting chorus lyric, “I don’t really care if we can’t talk / We can always fuck.” It’s the most straightforward song on the album, from the brash lyrics to the driving guitars and thundering drums. As compelling as the history lessons are, the song is enough to make you wish Portico would be so emotionally direct all the time.
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