Portugal. The Man
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2007, Volume 14, #7
Written by John Metzger
Sun July 22, 2007, 05:30 AM CDT
Freedom is an inherent part of the indie rock scene, and it is both a blessing and curse. More than ever, bands rise and fall in plain view, and most attract sizeable followings and a wealth of attention long before they are ready. The early stages of careers are known for being periods of rapid evolution, and where a group begins is not necessarily where it winds up making its mark. Everything from current trends to personal taste tug and pull at an outfit, but if it catches a break too soon, it can be locked into a game plan that it doesnít necessarily want. Many ensembles are ripped apart by the process, and successful leaps into the mainstream are due as much to a groupís talent they are to a perfect alignment of cosmic forces.
The Alaskan trio known as Portugal. The Man stumbled out of the gate with its 2004 effort Waiter: "You Vultures!". The bandís ambitions were apparent, but its execution did little to mask its pretentiousness. Portugal. The Manís subsequent EP Itís Complicated Being a Wizard provided no reason to change this perspective, though the set did serve both to highlight the ensembleís grand aspirations as well as to signal that perhaps it had not yet solidified its sound. In crafting its sophomore effort Church Mouth, Portugal. The Man swapped the drum machines and sequencers that defined Waiter: "You Vultures!" for the more traditional constructs of a power trio, and in effect it has set its sight upon the niche market that has been dominated by The White Stripes. As last yearís buzz band Wolfmother proved, thereís room for more than one outfit at the top.
Throughout Church Mouth, Portugal. The Man turns the blues into a heavy metal stomp of crashing drums, thrashing guitars, and orgasmic squeals. While the music frequently feels as if it sprang from a Led Zeppelin revival, it also is more heavily shaded with southern gospel textures. The call-and-response vocals that dot its landscape combined with the religious imagery that runs rampant through its lyrics pave a path that leads, perhaps, to salvation, though the stench of death ó and the uncertainty about what it actually means ó seems to linger around every corner. Electronic effects drift in and out of the picture like wraiths, adding an eerie, Beck-ish quality to the proceedings.
The problem, however, is that while Portugal. The Man has found its focus, it hasnít yet discovered a way of making an album that is engaging from start to finish. Its use of dynamics is considerably flawed. As a result, the songs on Church Mouth melt into a blurry, nondescript haze. Loudness, after all, doesnít necessarily translate into conviction. In the end, Portugal. The Man doesnít quite find the transcendence it is seeking, but if the ensemble doesnít get locked within a vicious cycle of its own hype, it ought to be able to find the time to refine its craft. One day, it might even succeed in parlaying the ideas it has outlined on Church Mouth into something it can call its own.
Of Further Interest...
Church Mouth is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box