Though it's been more than a decade since their last (live) album, Portishead remain as invitingly somber as ever. While the band's third studio album doesn't stray too far from the cloudy atmospherics that have earned this trio from Bristol a diverse and devoted following, its lack of novelty -- mainly due to the fact that in 2008 Third doesn't seem quite as surprising as their debut album, Dummy, did in 1994 -- shouldn't confound expectations either. Portishead specializes in unthreatening melancholy. (Notice how the alarms on the opening track, "Silence," sound more festive rather than ominous.) This lends their music an insular quality that's evocative without being dreary. Much of this can be ascribed to vocalist Beth Gibbons's frosty delivery. Gibbons can make lines as bluntly vulnerable as those that appear on "Nylon Smile" -- "Looking out I wanna know someone might care / Looking out I want a reason to be there / 'cause I don't know what I've done to deserve you / I don't know what I'll do without you" -- appear eerily serene. Of course, kudos must also be given to Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, who are both multi-instrumentalists and producers on the album, for their remarkable ability to create musical textures that are as delicate and substantial as a tiramisu. Note that the lead single for Third, "Machine Gun," is one of the more disappointing tracks on this album, which deserves to be listened to in its entirety. Still, listeners on the fence would do well to check out the songs "Hunter" and "Plastic" to hear the band at its best.

July 25: On this day in 1834 Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of heart disease at the age of sixty-one.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).