New band of the week: New Portals (No 97)

A fantastic husband-wife act purveying the sort of pristine digital heartbreak pop you could imagine Taylor Swift singing

Hometown: Belfast.

The lineup: Ruth Aicken (vocals, percussion), Mike Aicken (vocals, synth, keyboards).

The background: Sunny spring weather, meet fluffy summer pop. New Portals are a new duo – although they have enjoyed some success as members of the Jepettos, an alt-folk group from Derry, Northern Ireland, who have shared bills with Foo Fighters and Tinie Tempah and had millions of Spotify streams for a track called Something in the Air. (Not the 1969 one, incidentally, by Thunderclap Newman – RIP Andy Newman.)

If you like the high, angelic voice on those Jepettos songs – that’ll be singer Ruth Aicken – but would prefer them in a more shiny electronic context, then you’ll love New Portals and the R&B and synthpop settings provided by Aiken’s husband Mike. In fact, call it a cosmic coincidence or an ethereal intervention by the gods of pop, but the four songs on the Soundcloud below posit New Portals as one of the finest R&B-tinged male-female duos we’ve heard since AlunaGeorge – who we happen to have covered in this very column almost exactly five years ago to the day (give or take a month).

There’s a comparison point with another duo: like Oh Wonder, who issued a new single every month throughout 2015, the intention for New Portals is to release a new song every few weeks. They’ve got loads of “really pretty tunes”, according to their PR, who knows that we’re suckers for pretty up here, especially when the prettiness is balanced by a powerful, pristine production that draws on modern dance styles from R&B to EDM.

The new single, Groove Boy, is crystalline pop with a divine melody, a keyboard pattern that gives “twinkling” a good name, and celestial sighs from Ms Aicken that make Aluna Francis sound like Aretha Franklin. The milieu is the discotheque but the mood is dolorous (“You took my love and you gave it away”). Immaculate use of finger-clicks, too.

Skyline is electronic pop in excelsis, not specifically referential of any beatgeist. It has the commercial potential of a Chvrches and you could imagine any number of superstar performers singing it – a sure sign of the quality of the songwriting.

Do It Right is lovely, with noir shades of the lugubrious R&B of Drake and the Weeknd. Their first single, Standing Over Here, proves they got it right from the start, that they knew exactly what they wanted to achieve with New Portals. The jabbing bassline is pure Motown, and yet it could be Taylor Swift herself behind such cutely cutting asides as: “You’re so off your head from last night on the dancefloor … You stupid so-and-so … All I know is I don’t need it.” And just when you’re thinking the protagonists are never, ever getting back together, there’s an absolutely heavenly chord change or transition where Ruth Aicken sings: “It’s not that I don’t love you…” And it should, if you’ve made it this far, convince you of the quality of this fabulously promising new act.

The buzz: “A pristine slice of R&B-infused electro-pop” – Hot Press.

The truth: You know you like it.

Most likely to: Feel like there’s something going on.

Least likely to: Shake it off.

What to buy: Groove Boy is out now.

File next to: AlunaGeorge, Oh Wonder, Scritti Politti, Say Lou Lou.


Ones to watch: Social Skills, the Traps, Las Aves, Dinner, Anna of the North.

• This article was amended on 20 February 2018 because the members of New Portals are not brother and sister as an earlier version said.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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