Portugal. The Man

American Ghetto

Written by: PP on 19/03/2010 06:11:17

There are bands like AC/DC and Green Day who take four years or longer with albums these days, and then there are (very rarely) bands like Portugal. The Man, whose rate of output resembles an assembly line on overdrive, except without any of the negative connotation normally associated with mass produced output. Omar Rodriguez Lopez is one of the kindred spirits to Portugal. The Man, for sure, but not even his Latino-inspired experimental prog rock can keep up in consistency with these Alaskan boys. Since 2006, Portugal. The Man have released four EPs and five full lengths (including this one), and only one of them has been anything less than impressive. "American Ghetto", released just 8 months after the band's career-defining masterpiece "The Satanic Satanist", sees them continue to walk their own, unexplored path in experimental indie rock, venturing on a sonic adventure of the kind that's not really comparable to any particular band. I wish all bands were this creative.

Compared to "The Satanic Satanist", which had a distinct leaning on The Beatles inspired 60s pop with an experiemental indie-pop twist added on top, "American Ghetto" is a much more ambitious album experimentation-wise. The sounds and atmospheres present are a little more unconventional and complicated in nature, surely leaving many new fans of the previous album scratching their head and wondering what to think of them, whilst older fans will welcome the return to "Church Mouth" with mixed feelings. On one hand, you have a couple of masterpiece cuts like "The Pushers Party", "The Dead Dog", "All My People" and particularly the album closer "When The War Ends", which are all examples of Portugal. The Man at their very best: relaxed rhythms, experimental, innovative guitar picking on the background often subtly inspired by some of the old greats, and the dreamy, wailed high pitch signature vocals of John Gourley that are impossible to mistake for anyone else. Though more experimental, they are still a far cry from the artistic perfection of one of the strangest and most challenging recordings I know, "It's Complicated Being A Wizard EP" from 2007, but yet they leave many contemporary artists sounding flat and ordinary in comparison. At the same time, however, there are a couple of duds on the album halfway through which enter and leave like a curious looking anonymous person you pass by in the London Underground; you may stare at them for a while and think about why they look interesting enough for them to interrupt your thought process, but you only get a couple of stops worth of analysis before they are out again and you'll forget about them by the time your iPod skips to the next track.

Luckily (or should I say: as we expected), the good outnumber the bad with big enough percentage for me to perceive the record as enjoyable overall. It's not as easily accessible as "The Satanic Satanist", so only a few tracks will stick to mind as such, but on the other hand it may be more rewarding in terms of overall artistic impression. The expression isn't so direct and overpowered on this record, leaving much up to the listener to figuring out, such as the "little people" lyrical motif that I've spotted in several different places on the record. With time, it may turn out that "American Ghetto" is much better than it feels like on surface, but since the band refused to give out a copy of the CD to anyone before the actual release date, the opportunity to spend an extra month exploring the record in full just isn't there. I'll leave it up to you, the listener, to check out the details. What's important for now is that if you haven't checked out Portugal. The Man yet, then you're falling behind; they're one of those genre-defining, seminal bands in the making that you'll be happy to brag about having seen, or just having discovered them back when they were still around.

Download: When The War Ends, The Dead Dog, All My People
For the fans of: The Sound Of Animals Fighting, experimental and challenging music
Listen: Myspace

Release date 03.03.2010
Approacing AIRballoons / Equal Vision Records

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