Portable: Powers of Ten

Recently, Alan Abrahams established the Bodycode guise as a way of differentiating his more club-oriented dance music from the distinctive Africa-meets-Chicago micro-house he issues as Portable. With the release of Powers of Ten, the divergent paths associated with the two personae now come more clearly into focus, as the album retains connections to the established Portable style but audaciously extends it into new areas.

Vocals assume a more prominent role in the new material, and thankfully Abrahams' singing ability—rare for a ‘dance' artist—is up to the challenge. “Albatross,” for example, boasts a storming, bass-propelled groove as hypnotic as any heard before but the tune's distinguished even more by the sound of his rich baritone repeatedly chanting “Which way?” and the intricate vocal accents that pan behind it. The dreamy ballad “Migrate,” the album's most remarkable departure, has more in common with Depeche Mode than Fela, with Abrahams' fragile vocal (especially affecting in the hushed title chant) resembling a cross between Dave Gahan and Brian Eno, and the swooning downtempo cuts “Shifting Sunlight” and “The Kuiper Belt” entrance too.

The album includes a number of mesmerizing, densely-layered constructions (the haunting “Arrabida” and blistering, acid-inflected “Offline Mondays”) that are so infectiously dance-oriented, they could just as easily pass for Bodycode material—the nine-minute “Locate,” for instance, where Abrahams plays off the placid calm of soul-jazz keyboard figures with a pulsating swirl of voice and rhythm elements, and “Trade Winds,” whose body music is so contagious one would have to be paralyzed not to be physically roused. Powers of Ten is available as a double 12-inch or CD, with the latter including “Take Action,” the eleven-minute A-side of the Speak Out 12-inch, as a bonus track. Hardly a footnote, the track showcases Abrahams' gifts in all their glory. Vocally, he criss-crosses a silken “I don't want to, I don't want to, I don't want to lose it” chorus chant with a deep monotone in the verse (crowned by the Bowie-esque croon of the phrase “the future of the human race”) and boosts the song's potency even more with a driving base that pairs disco hi-hat triplets with a deliciously hiccupping kick drum pattern.

Throughout the album, Abrahams' command of rhythm, arrangement, and melody verges on brilliant, making Powers of Ten another triumphant chapter in Abrahams' evolving story. It's especially satisfying to witness him not only branch out beyond the terrain he so thoroughly mapped out on past releases (Cycling, Version, et al.) but to do so in such convincing and captivating manner.

September 2007