Small Mammal Records has been pretty prolific in its support of Akron-based (and a few Cleveland-based) acts this year. Whether they’re spreading the word on gigs for Penny Arcade and Wax Bodega, or supporting releases by Alamor and City Cop, they keep showing up in my event listings and my inbox. Throughout the month of Floctober (you read that right), SMR put those efforts behind the pop/math/indie rock band Portage from Akron for their new album “Songs You Can’t Dance To,” released October 20.
This eight-track endeavor intends to mix pop, math and indie rock music in a way that’s enjoyable for a vast range of listeners. With its roots in math rock, the album seems to make fun of the semi-traditional pop/alternative format that’s popular amongst bands from the Midwest. In non-musician terms, just when you think you’ve figured out the pace of a melody, it changes, but still gives you something catchy to cling onto.
The fairly busy “Malice Honey” kicks the album off, with catchy “ba-bas” after the first verse that you can’t help but sing along to. The songwriting stays pretty close to this track throughout: bright vocals from guitarist Justin Cheuvront, and bassist Isaac Thomas filling in the low end with his vocals and instrumentation. Their voices fit together well on “Another Song You Can’t Dance To,” as they sing “The day that I stop caring, your nights are spent doing, while I slept alone.”
Portage displays immense talent as drummer Eric Vaught follows the maze that Justin’s guitar creates. Avoiding heavy distortion at all costs, the blending of math rock and pop never becomes problematic on this album, so it has the easy-listening palette the band intended.
It flows freely from start to finish.
Lyrically, “Songs You Can’t Dance To” keeps its promise, with self-deprecating moments like the chorus on “Emo Is Dead And So Am I,” which is about having a toothache from chewing on prescription medicine and speaking regrettable rhetoric. Lines about being “prone to nostalgia and accidents” and wishing for “an Indian summer so we can make it through autumn” beg the question: are they alluding to mild depression or am I over-complicating the metaphor? My favorite was the final track, “Sign Language,” a clean, fall-dressed tune that makes you feel like the band is performing in your kitchen—Eric playing drums with whatever he can find while Justin and Isaac trade tropes on becoming honest men.
The album misfires on its mission statement a few times with unexpected screaming vocals, and while it may express the intended emotion more clearly, it kind of takes away from the serene backyard you were sitting in (especially if you were wearing headphones). The project is sonically pleasing, though, thanks to mixing by Portage and mastering by Adam Boose (of Cauliflower Audio in Cleveland).
“Songs You Can’t Dance To” isn’t meant to discourage you from moving, however it is a better experience if you aren’t.
(Album artwork by Logan Thyr. Original concept by Nyki Fetterman)
(Portage all smiles now that their new record is out. Photo by Portage)