What kind of people listen to Portishead? 'Freaks,' a friend says. 'Freaks who lock themselves in a tiny room during the weekend watching horror movies, particularly ones directed by John Carpenter or Dario Argento.' This may be a little harsh: it is reported that 327,000 people visited Last.fm (a UK-based internet radio and music website) during the course of 24 hours to listen to the band's new album prior to its release last month. Yet there's no doubt that Third - the band's latest studio offering after a decade of self-imposed exile - is set to become a staple for tortured souls. The album is classic Portishead stuff, sounding like tracks from a sophisticated thriller. Mind you, this is a compliment. Third is great trip hop music (the band hates the tag, but it's a convenient label for their type of hybrid music) that has the hypnotic feeling, the sense of dread and the tension of a great horror movie. Portishead literally created this new genre of pop music single-handedly with their debut album Dummy (1994), which was a success in Europe and the US. Merging elements of jazz, soul, torch songs, movie soundtracks and hip hop, Dummy defines trip hop, a unique style of contemporary down-tempo electronic music then emerged from England's hip hop and house scenes. The album is considered by many critics as one of the most important albums of the 1990s. Portishead, comprising vocalist Beth Gibbons and instrumentalists Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley (a former jazz guitarist), are like the durian fruit: you either love their music or hate it; there is no middle ground. The rat-tat-tat and pounding drum beats in Machine Gun, complemented by Gibbons' emotional and fragile vocals that drift like a ghost, will strike fans as hugely innovative. But to those who think music is solely for relaxation, the track is as annoying as a terrible headache. The thing is, nobody listens to Portishead if they're looking to relax. Their music isn't about inducing a peaceful and coherent state of mind; it's about experimenting with the soft and cold texture of sounds as well as venturing into a trance-like and creepy territory of music. It's about moments and abruptness. Their songs don't end - they just stop abruptly, some even in the middle of a sentence, to keep us tense and confused. So if you know nothing about Portishead but are willing to give the album a chance, try listening to Plastic, Threads and We Carry On - and listen to them twice in one go. If you find their eerie synthesisers and laidback, down-tempo style addictive, then the group is your cup of tea. Welcome to Portishead's creepy, unique world.