There are some albums that can define a year or a season, or some that define a scene, a movement or a whole genre. It's very rare for an album to define a whole city; its ethos, its character and its culture. Dummy is that kind of album. Seriously, go to Bristol for a week and immerse yourself in the city. Experience the culture of the place; the locals, the vibrancy, the street art, the cider boat or Thekla, then go and listen to Portishead's Dummy - you soon realise that if everything you've experienced over that last week could be equated into musical form Dummy would be that equivalent. The completely relaxed vibe, the reserved experimentation and the willingness to embrace the different. What seems grey and simple on the outside (Bristol isn't the most visually arresting of cities) actually turns out to be interesting and unique, full of colour and flourishes if you put the effort into finding that colour and unique nature. That's Dummy.

What I love about Dummy is how much the atmosphere on each song is dictated by Beth Gibbons. There is so, so much to her voice that it's a challenge to pull yourself away from her vocals to listen to everything else that's happening on Dummy - and the more you listen to the album the more you realise certain emotions are triggered purely by the vocals. Maybe that's due to familiarity with the album but I'm willing to wager a few pennies that after a few listens newcomers will come to the exact same conclusion. Gibbons' vocals aren't an exercise in melodramatics, she isn't a vocalist that goes to the extreme ends of emotions to convey her points, that's the beauty of her voice and also the reason she works so well with the rest of the band, her understated vocals work in tandem with the music. As a listener you get that haunting, frightened feeling with a mere quiver of her vocal chords rather than a load of histrionics - whereas on some tracks like 'Sour Times' there's a confidence in Gibbons' vocals, even a little bit of a sassy nature but there isn't a huge departure in her vocals in comparison to those more sombre songs. It's the most delicate of adjustments but the alteration is there and it's a joy to listen to, to work out what place and what emotion we're being taken to next. It's rewarding too, having to listen intently to notice those tiny changes as you have to put time into the album, but the reward is absolutely worth it.

So, with Beth Gibbons' vocals so many moods and tones come to the fore, more so even than the lyrics, that's what I've found I'm always drawn to first anyway. When the music hits there's an absolute atmospheric overload, of the very good variety. Firstly, there's that accentuation; the music helps the atmosphere along but it doesn't really set the tone or mood at any point on the album. There might be one exception to this on 'Roads' but for the most part it isn't the first three layers, it's the last layer at the end. By the time we're halfway through 'Mysterons' proceedings are already glum, but the music makes it that little bit more haunting. The tone to 'Wandering Star' is already framed in Gibbon's vocal tones and lyrics like "Please stay a while and share in my grief," but that bassline in the background emphasises that sombre mood and downtrodden tone. As a listener you're already there at that conclusion, you know what feelings you're going to get, or told to get, but it's as if it's still only in black and white. The music gives an extra little dimension, as if it's turned a matte painted wall into a glossy one. Everything was already there already but that extra sheen was missing.

That's what the music does with the vocals as its partner but that's just one half of the story. The second part of that atmospheric overload I was talking about can't be influenced by the vocals and that's own to the composition of the music itself. Everything on Dummy is just so nuanced it's a triumph in proper dynamic production. Perhaps this is because I'm still listening to a CD from 1994 when clipping and dynamic compression wasn't the norm and to be honest I'm not really of the opinion that I even need to check for a reissue. In reality, this probably doesn't matter anyway, when you listen to Third it's obvious how much care and attention Portishead put into their work. And that's the thing - all that detail makes you, as a listener, concentrate on every single sound. This makes Dummy a strangely hypnotic experience anytime you listen to it, no matter if it's the first or hundredth time. If the music were in a void and completely detached from the vocals it would still be compelling and it would still be a fascinating listen. True, it wouldn't have the same emotional clout but you'd still find it hard to press the stop button, lift the needle or take your headphones off.

When you mash all of the above three things together, the vocals, the music and the production you're left with a wonderfully compelling listen. It might not seem it on the first listen, but Dummy is a treasure trove of awesome, if only you allow that awesome to come running out. It's gripping, it's evocative and, dare I say it, just a little bit beautiful.

Dummy was originally released on August 22nd, 1994 via Go! Beat.