Rhyme Report No Complaints Album Cover

Published on November 7th, 2019 | by Guest Contributor


PORTNOY Create Their Own Home—and Sound—on New Album, No Complaints

The path to success in the constantly evolving music industry can be especially confusing these days. The question of how and where to promote your music, on top of trying to get through the struggles of day-to-day life, fuel indie duo PORTNOY’s newest single “Spotified.” An anthem for musicians struggling with the digital reality, PORTNOY asks, “How do we get radio airplay? As if we haven’t all been Spotified anyway.”

Israel and Mendy Portnoy, the brothers who make up the duo PORTNOY, respond to those challenges with warmth and relatable bewilderment. “Spotified” is buoyed by cheerful ukuleles, peppy backup vocals, and a grooving beat even while the brothers sing “We’ve all had a stupid long hard day.” PORTNOY’s new album, No Complaints, carries off that same balancing act: between retro vibes and up-to-the-moment observations, empathy and irony, a deep sense of rootedness and a sound that belongs everywhere (Release: October 31, 2019). Just when you feel at home in the lush acoustic guitars and good old-fashioned songwriting on No Complaints, PORTNOY strikes out to a new destination.

Take “Celebrate,” the opening track. It begins in the territory of the familiar, an upbeat tune that reminds the listener that “your life won’t wait,” not so much a party song as an earnest appeal to live fully. But then PORTNOY takes a left turn: the classic guitars and verse-chorus structure gives way to a genre-busting improvisational cascade of keyboards and haunting vocals. “Celebrate” signals that No Complaints is going to keep playing with expectations. Later in the album “Tick of Time” fulfills that promise, swelling into an epic power ballad that’s in a different emotional universe from “Spotified,” and yet in the same PORTNOY voice.

Recording No Complaints at home and abroad set the tone. PORTNOY laid down instrumentals with session musicians in Nashville, TN. The city and its rich culture of music felt like the right home for No Complaints. The brothers could find a little bit of themselves there, even though they’d never visited before setting up the session. “Nashville and its music just have this tangible, alive, and earthy feeling,” Israel explains. “That can be hard to come by these days when the world is filled with so much polished pop.”

While the instrumentals were recorded in Nashville, the signature vocal harmonies that make PORTNOY’s sound so distinctive were recorded in Israel, an important place for the band. It’s where the brothers went to school to study Talmud, a life event which Israel describes as “an Orthodox Jewish community standard,” although he preferred to lean into his study of Blues guitar. “Home to Zion” captures PORTNOY’s feelings for the place they still live in a foot-tapping anthem with the refrain “I feel you around me, and that makes me free. . .Jerusalem, you feel like home to me.”

Just before “Spotified” was released as a single, that sense of home took on a new resonance for the brothers. A wildfire descended on Israel Portnoy’s house, forcing him to evacuate suddenly and leave everything behind to be burned to the ground. So Israel was with faced promoting PORTNOY’s new single while living in a displaced persons camp. But the duo persevered despite this personal setback— they felt they owed it to the hundreds of fans and friends across continents that had supported an Indigogo campaign to jumpstart the album.

Like that upswell of support, PORTNOY’s sound comes from all the places they’ve called home- though they may not be the places you would expect. The brothers grew up in Hale Barns, a little village outside Manchester, UK. Mr. Mann, a family friend who drove them an hour and a half to school every day, would fill the long ride with tunes on BBC Radio 2. The brothers soaked it all up: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Crosby Stills and Nash. “Now when we hear those songs, we turn to each other and say, ‘Radio 2!’” Mendy tells me. “We couldn’t name song or artist at the time, but we were absorbing it. We would have those hooks and choruses stuck in our heads.”

That’s where PORTNOY imbibed the retro, soulful folk/rock sensibility that makes No Complaints feel comfortable and new at the same time. Radio 2 classics aren’t their only influences. Their father had been an orchestra conductor before becoming a Rabbi, so the brothers grew up immersed in music, at home and in the synagogue. Israel reminisces, “Since the weather is always crap in Britain, we spent a lot of time at home making music together. There was never a Playstation for us, just a piano!”

Later, when they heard American gospel music for the first time, it felt surprisingly familiar. “I was completely floored by it. There’s just something about it,” Mendy enthuses. “I think what it is,” Israel adds, “is the fact that sacred music—of every faith—has a fundamentally different purpose than other music. It’s prayer.” So music for Israel and Mendy Portnoy was always about more than just writing something catchy, though No Complaints has its share of hooks. It’s a way to pray, to express ideas, and above all to make connections with people, whether they’re in Nashville, Manchester, or Jerusalem.

So with No Complaints, PORTNOY do more than just infuse indie rock with a sense of the sacred. They create a refuge for themselves, a home that transcends geography —something that they’re eager to share with others. “It’s really a superpower that music has,” Israel tells me. “You can try to analyze the harmony or chord sequences, but music’s power of expression operates beyond our comprehension.” Perhaps it’s this sense of the intangibility of music’s intrinsic emotional power that makes PORTNOY’s music so likable, genuine, and above all refreshing.

No Complaints Album Cover

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