Race With The Tide

PØRTS release three offcuts from their forthcoming debut album which suggest greater things to come

Under their original name Little Bear, the Derry~Londonderry quartet created a major stir in double-quick time. Less than two years after forming, they were racking up milestones including a performances on RTE's Other Voices and a headlining slot at Belfast Music Week. All the while, they attracted fans with their warmly melodic pop/rock.

The rather twee name Little Bear never really seemed that fitting for the mature, widescreen music that this band makes, and it turns out that they would have to change it anyway; Little Bear is already trademarked in America. In choosing a replacement, the band have chosen well – PØRTS (upper case and accent their own), with its maritime connotations, does a much better job of conveying their innate sense of grandeur.

With their debut album in the can, and set for release in early 2015, Race With The Tide is a three-track EP of offcuts, named after its lead track. (There's the maritime connection again, and it's continued in the artwork.)

This seems like a ballsy move – in deciding to release tracks deemed not good enough for an album release, expectations are automatically set low, and fans are entitled to ask why they should care about the crumbs under the band's table. So, is the release justified?

The title track is the pick of the bunch. It barrels in with a lovely, jaunty piano line that is reminiscent of Duke Special, and Stephen McCool's vocals develop from deep and measured in the verses to a light, falsetto croon in the memorable chorus. References to the sea abound, which complements the sea shanty-ish feel of the song, and there is a trumpet line to die for.

Second track 'Distances' is more mundane, a po-faced power ballad that sounds it was written with the intention of coaxing lighters out of pockets and into the air, or of soundtracking a reality show contestant's 'journey' montage. It's undeniably well played, sung and arranged – the middle eight, where everything drops out except drums and backing vocals, is nicely done – but it isn't PØRTS' finest moment.

That leaves 'Second In Line', a folk-tinged number with double-time drums, fingerpicked guitar and what sounds like a whole room of people whoopin' and hollerin' in the background. I'm not sure if PØRTS will welcome the comparison, but there is a definite hint of Mumford and Sons in the energetic playing and the way McCool belts out the chorus: 'I would wait second in line for you.'

This is the one track that does show off another facet of PØRTS' sound – that of freewheeling energy – and it must surely translate well live.

In all, it's hard to recommend Race With The Tide as anything approaching essential, but that is not its purpose. If PØRTS' album contains ten or 12 songs stronger than anything here, it will be well worth checking out. As an appetiser for that, Race With The Tide has justified its existence.

Download Race With The Tide now via Bandcamp.

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