From Cream to Rush to Motörhead to, more recently, The Fringe, the power trio’s allure comes down to the strikingly inverse proportion of sheer sound to the relatively small number of musicians involved. Your humble drums/bass/guitar combo had better blow the socks off of bands twice as numerous. On The New Routine, Port Noir prove themselves a proper power trio, blowing those socks off with aplomb.
Right from opener “Old Fashioned,” these Swedish gents fill the available musical space with swagger and groove. Taking a page from Lemmy in spirit if not in speed, Love Andersson’s deft playing takes on the roles of both bass & rhythm guitar. He’s covering the low and mid frequencies, providing pulsation and syncopation, then dropping mood over the top with vocals. This leaves Andreas Hollstrand free to switch between rhythmic synths and precise guitar explosions. Meanwhile, the drums don’t let up; AW Wiberg takes a “more is more” approach to hitting things, the hi-hat/ride featuring prominently over punchy snare. It’s all held together by a sophisticated production sensibility that emphasizes tone, and a mix that supports the requisite loudness while eschewing density.
This approach carries through to every track on the album: lots of rhythm, groove, and dynamism; little in the way of solos or instrumental spotlights. “Blow” adds some instantly-80’s woodwind-y synth pads; “13,” thunders with the most Rage Against The Machine-esque heavy groove and socially critical moment of the album; “Down for Delight,” features a crunchy hook of a guitar lick; but across the 11 cuts here, there’s little deviation from the general formula. The New Routine thus feels a little ‘same-y’ in places—this is actually one of my most-repeated listens of the year, but I still can’t keep all the songs distinguished from each other. The vocals, too, maintain a similar swagger across each track, with little variation in their emotional intensity. Though, as another instrumental contribution, they punctuate and propel effectively.
Even if the individual songs run a bit together, the album as a whole flows nicely, such that closer “Out of Line” feels less like a resolution than an invitation to stay in the groove by starting the album over. Port Noir are a welcome addition to InsideOut Music’s continued expansion into more progressive approaches to alternative rock (versus ‘prog’ as that term is usually understood), and The New Routine arrives as a mature, fiery vision for the modern power trio. The rhythmic power of Motörhead melded to the heavy groove of Rage Against The Machine then filtered through the pop sensibilities of a Muse or Randy McStine = sophisticated dynamism.