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After 2002's Only if You Look Up, Portable parted company with TVT Records and opted to record on its own. Being unsigned, of course, can have its advantages and disadvantages. Putting out CDs without a label deal can mean more artistic freedom -- you don't have a team of A&R, marketing, and promotions people to answer to -- but it's also an expensive proposition, not to mention a great deal of hard work. And quite frankly, some bands have suffered artistic decline when they gave up the sort of constructive criticism that a well-established label can provide. But Portable, thankfully, isn't one of them; creatively, the band hasn't lost a thing since its departure from TVT. Starsongs, the band's first post-TVT release, picks up where Only if You Look Up left off -- and what was true of Portable during its TVT period is still true on this 23-minute, seven-song EP: the Los Angeles residents still thrive on a combination of attractive, easy-to-absorb melodies and meaty, challenging lyrics. Chance, Portable's lead singer, doesn't write simple-minded lyrics -- the melodies have a certain immediacy, but the lyrics are emotionally complex and require some thought on the part of the listener. In that sense, Portable continues to bring to mind both David Bowie and Nirvana -- two artists who pulled listeners in with their accessible hooks and melodies but didn't always go out of their way to be lyrically accessible. And even if you couldn't speak a word of English and had no idea what Hutchinson was singing and writing about, it would be obvious that alternative rock/post-grunge items like "Cassiopeia" and "Little Record Player" have a lot to offer musically. The songs have meat on their bones, and Starsongs demonstrates that, creatively, there is life after TVT for Chance and his colleagues.

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