Artist: Portugal. The Man
Label: Equal Vision/Approaching AIRballoons
Due Out: July 21st
Sitting down with yet another Portugal. The Man record, I can't help but feel like Censored Colors just came out. Well, technically, it did. The Alaska band's fantastic 2008 record came out in September, and now, about 10 months later, here we are again. If you remember at all, I gave their last effort rave reviews, and was one of the few people on the internet to give the album its rightful place atop their end-of-year list. Too bad lightning doesn't strike twice. While Portugal. The Man has done a great job over the past five years of putting out a large amount of quality material in a short amount of time, you can't help but feel like this one was rushed a bit. And by a bit, I mean quite a lot. Maybe it's just the inevitable letdown after a superb effort, but I can't help feeling like something's lacking when listening to The Satanic Satanist.
We start with "People Say," the song everybody's heard already, with very mixed opinions amongst fans. What I, and others, have taken issue with is the lack of a real edge, save for maybe the last 30 seconds, which is a stark contrast from the band's usual style. Next, "Work All Day" seems to be a foray into hip-hop and industrial pop. Neither of these songs are terrible, it's just that I still have to take issue with the lack of edge. There's also an over-embracing of country and classic rock. That, by itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's their attempt at practicing with it which makes the songs off-putting for diehards. "Lovers In Love" works similarly-- existing in choice bright spots, but overall, seemingly overreaching for new sounds and experimental moments. Make that double for "The Sun". I'm not opposed to the bright music epidemic this year. On the contrary, I enjoy most of it. But not for Portugal. The Man. They have (had) a vibe that involved careening minor chords, etc., so this is slight culture shock. Alas, we continue...
"The Home" spends a good amount of time embracing the aspects of this band I enjoy, while at the same time battling off a Willie Nelson cover for the first minute. Luckily, an electro-psychadelic solo interrupts and saves us. The rest of the album actually follows a similar tract, believe it or not. Of course, there are some unfortunate gaffes, but overwhelmingly, the last seven tracks are much more tolerable than the first five. On "The Woods," John Baldwin Gourley's soaring falsetto fits in perfectly with the western guitar riffs mixed with mechanical percussion. THIS is Portugal. The Man. "Guns and Dogs" hits in much the same manner. The band knows experimental psychadelia, twinged with western influences, and to leave that dynamic is foolish. Most of the track revolves around Gourley's powerful rambling amidst flowing organs in a track reminiscent of Censored Colors. Following that, "Do You," another song many heard prior to the album, possesses some of the album's heaviest and most notable passages. This is the part where I thank them for fixing things.
"Everyone Is Golden" starts out a bit like a 90s alt-rock track, but somehow, I can still appreciate it. It reminds me of the final five tracks of the previous record, a bit of winding down, and some nostalgia propelling it into a calculated recession. Same goes for "Let You Down". A bit dreamy, yet littered with pointed exclamations, it's a stand out, especially in this second half full of them. And then you get to "Mornings." Where was this stuff the entire first half of the album?! Seriously. It successfully combines southwestern solos, prog-rock bombast and a distinct sense of melody, that frankly, very few bands can duplicate today. "We'll be just fine/I don't believe," Gourley croons. After this effort, I'm not sure which to believe.
Wow, that was perplexing. The Satanic Satanist is probably one of the most bipolar efforts of the year, staggering out of the gate, before finally settling in and turning in the type of performance I knew it was capable of. So now the question begs, how can we evaluate the album? If judging by segments, it can either be really good or really bad. When taking it as a whole, which part do you give more weight to? Though it's an inexact science, I feel like I can properly separate the bad from the good, and balance them out to hand out a proper grade. In the end, though I walked away happier than I started, I couldn't forget that poor taste in my mouth at the start, so it must be penalized in that regard. Perhaps you agree, but feel free not to. Similarities here include Pink Floyd, Dear and the Headlights and The Snake the Cross the Crown.
Best Track: "Do You"