Album Review: Portugal. The Man “Evil Friends”- by Dustin Brewer

Dustin sits down with the latest album from prolific indie band Portugal. The Man, “Evil Friends.”

It only takes about a minute into the album to see the effects of Portland based indie band Portugal. The Man teaming with producer Danger Mouse for their new album, “Evil Friends.”

Fans were excited at the prospect of what that pairing could yield and from opening track “Plastic Soldiers” it’s clear that Danger Mouse pushed the band to experiment even more than they have before.

The album’s first single, “Evil Friends” finds singer John Gourley embracing his dark side a bit, singing “It’s not that I’m evil, I got a friend in the devil,
But I can’t even be your friend” and “Before you were born, I was already sinning.”

What really sells this descent to the evil side for the band is Gourley’s voice; you can feel almost a struggle in the songs as you hear his desire to be evil in songs like “Purple, Yellow, Red & Blue” but also almost a plea for help to stop him before it’s too late.

“Sea of Air” touches on loss and suicide with lyrics like “When you talk to god about suicide, When you never hear back I hope you’re still alive, And the part of you that never cared, Well you can leave it here in the sea of air” that hit you in part to the sparse instrumentation and the gentle, hopeful tone in Gourley’s voice.

The band also touches on other topics like religion (“Modern Jesus”) and war (“Waves”) both are topics they’ve touched on before, but they avoid sounding like mere retreads and come across as an older, slightly more desensitized take on these things that it seems will be debated about forever.

From a production standpoint, Danger Mouse never forgets the bands strengths; Gourley’s voice, prominent bass lines and piercing synthesizers are still front and center, but there is a thin layer of grime covering the album that brings to mind Danger Mouse’s work on “Broken Bells” and “Hip Hop Kids” is likely to remind fans of the producers’ collaborations with Cee-Lo Green as Gnarls Barkley with a rolling beat and Gourley’s barbs at “rock’n’rollers.” There are some of his trademark effects, both on Gourley’s voice as well as a few “glitches” in some of the riffs here or there. They jar you, not because they’re out of place, but because they keep you on your toes, causing you to listen a little closer to all the intricacies tucked in each of the songs.

The band has also never sounded more in sync even as two members make their album debut with the band on “Evil Friends.” Kane Ritchotte takes over drums for Jason Sechrist and Kyle O’Quin steps to the keys/synthesizers in place of Ryan Neighbors who left the band in 2012 to pursue his own project. Noah Gersh adds in great guitar work to compliment Gourley’s and both seem to operate as lead guitarists, packing each song with riff after riff and Zach Carothers’ bass lines stand front and center in a good portion of the songs, managing to set the tone and grab your attention all at once.

Every band likes to say their newest album is a progression from the last and few can ever truly claim that, but it’s easy to hear a little bit of each previous album throughout “Evil Friends” as well as their love of the Beatles and even, yes, the Wu Tang Clan.

2010’s “American Ghetto” leaned on synthetic beats more heavily than their previous albums, in part as a homage to the hip-hop Gourley grew up listening to in Wasilla, Alaska. “Evil Friends” takes that hip-hop experimentation and uses it throughout the album, but in shorter, memorable bursts.

Portugal. The Man are arguably the most prolific band in music these days, releasing an album a year from 2006-2011, while some would say the constant releases may lead to lesser quality songs, the band have avoided ever sounding like they’re simply phoning it in or retreading previous work. They remain a constant bright point, not just in indie music, but throughout the entire industry and with an entire year between 2011’s “In The Mountains In The Clouds” and “Evil Friends” gave the band a chance to recharge and decide where they want to go next. One listen to “Evil Friends” and it’s clear; they just want to keep climbing up.

Notable songs; “Creep in a T-shirt,” “Hip Hop Kids,” “Sea of Air,” “Purple, Yellow, Red & Blue.”

 

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