You can listen to 'Evil friends' here.
The band with an extremely weird name for a band that originally originates from Alaska, returns with a new album. Having just found out that I have missed an album in 2011, I'll admit here and now that I sort of forgot about the band that surprised me with its 2008 album 'Censored colors'. In my memory it was definitely louder than what I'm hearing on Evil friends, but who cares when Evil Friends is such a fun album as it is.
Portugal. The Man is a five piece band from Portland, Oregon, the city where so many fine indie (rock) bands come from. The band started in Wasilla, Alaska in 2004, but moved before much had happened there. Since the start the band has now as many ex-members as it has present members. The last tour must have taken its toll as two band members were replaced. Constants are singer, guitar and organ player John Baldwin Gourley, bassplayer and backing vocalist Zachary Carothers and guitarist and vocalist Noah Gersh. The new ones are Kyle O'Quin on keyboards and synthesizers and Kane Richotte, drums and percussion.
Anyone who has to start with a description of the music of Portugal.The Man will start with the voice of Gourley. It is high, sometimes with a twist, sometimes near angelic, but always a voice that stands out. He would have done great as a background vocalist in the disco era, I'm sure. Gourley's voice works well in the more rock oriented tracks as well in the folkier and hippy trips. When backed up by the band magic's within reach.
Evil friends has another winner on board. Producer Danger Mouse has dug deep into the poppy vein of Portugal. The Man and struck gold when he found the hippy one also. Danger Mouse made the band come up with all sorts of little bends and curves in the music that make it just this little more interesting. All sorts of fine details pop up: Sgt. Peppery horns, some psychedelia, a la-la-la in the right place, a different guitar effect in a solo, disco with all disco elements stripped off. Not only the music is plain good, there is all this fun stuff to discover with each listen.
That brings Portugal. The Man close to The Shins melodically, in the more folky parts I hear fellow Alascans and Portlanders, Port O'Brien, in tune with the new psychedelia music craze and disco reminiscence in the singing. 'Purple yellow red and blue' has this pure disco singing over this poppy rock track. Sylvester could have been proud. What makes it acceptable is the lack of production on the voice. It appears real, high but under-cooled, with rough edges and all. And pop, pop and some more pop.
Allow me to pick out just one song, opener 'Plastic soldiers'. The song starts off with an acoustic guitar with this synth melody over it. Gourley sings, slightly muted. Very deep in the background all these atmospheric things are going on or perhaps just suggested. At 1"10 the mood changes as it will a few more times during the song. It makes the song exciting to listen to, makes it stand out and sets an incredibly high standard to maintain, which Portugal. The Man does. 'Plastic soldiers' is one of the more "empty" songs of Evil friends and still has all these incredible things going on. A true sound trip in combination with a great song. A winner if I ever heard one.
A few years back I remember reading that Portugal. The Man signed with a major. The end of the band was more or less announced. In an artistic way, as the integrity of the band was questioned (and its judgement of course). As I said, I missed the album 'In the mountain, in the cloud' (2011); I'll make up I promise. There's no fault on Evil friends, no lack of artistic inventiveness, to the contrary. The band uses its major budget to the fullest, by using it to create a great and full sound and explore the songs to the max with Evil friends as a result. Beautiful record.
You can order Evil Friends here