Belgian indie pop duo Portland — Jente Pironet and Sarah Pepels — can trace their origins back to when the duo lived at the same student housing unit while studying at Hasselt, Belgium‘s PXL Music School. The duo also a shared the same love of music with a specific soft spot for Elliott Smith. In fact, the project’s name is a nod to Smith’s hometown. From the start, it was clear that the duo had a palpable chemistry: Their voices blend and complement each other perfectly.
The duo took part in and won several local talent competitions before signing to [PIAS] back in 2018. Their full-length debut, 2019’s Your Colours Will Stain was released to critical and commercial acclaim with the album peaking at #6 on the Belgian album charts, thanks to success of the melancholy and dreamy sound of singles like “Killer’s Mind, “Ally Ally” and “You Misread Me.” Adding to a growing profile, the Belgian pop duo made the rounds of the national and international touring circuit with sets at Rock Werchter, Pukklepop, and The Great Escape, as well as several festivals across the Benelux region (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) and France.
Earlier this year, the duo relocated to the UK to record their highly-anticipated, 12-song, sophomore album Departures with Oliver Baystom. Slated for a March 17, 2023 release, the album reportedly sees the duo growing into their own as performers and songwriters. The material is more direct and to the point, while displaying more intricate melodies and arrangements. Casting aside the need to show off their vocal range or tricks on every song, the duo let the songs guide them to find the perfect tone and harmonies to complement the melodies and rhythms. The end result is an album of moving, beautiful and dream-like music.
Departures‘ latest single, the Sarah Pepels-penned “Stardust” is a slow-burning and beguiling song featuring an atmospheric and brooding arrangement of organ, keys and woodwinds. Pepels’ delicate vocal gently tiptoes through the arrangement, with the song and vocalist slowly growing louder and gaining confidence while getting to the song’s chorus. The song is rooted in deeply personal yet universal experience: lost love, lives turned upside down and putting the pieces of a broken life and heart back together while being a celebration of one’s inner strength and resolve.
“In January 2021, I was heartbroken, I had to leave a lot of memories and a part of my life, my love, behind,” Portland’s Sarah Pepels explains. “I didn’t know where to go, but I knew, I had to write music to put those thoughts and heavy emotions into. I needed to be alone, so I went cat-sitting at my niece’s apartment. I locked myself up for four days with nothing but the warmth and company of the furry kittens. It turned out to be a very intense and cathartic journey. And so ‘Stardust, a song that means the world to me, was born.”