Portugal. The Man – American Ghetto

  • Cole Faulkner posted
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Portugal. The Man

American Ghetto - Equal Vision Records

Alaska’s Portugal. The Man (mind the punctuation), is without question the most prolific band on the indie circuit.  Very few bands achieve the quantity of output that Portugal. can boast: Five full length albums, a remix EP, and an acoustic album in less than five years.  To top it off, each album both builds off of and reinvigorates Portugal’s core mechanics time and again.  While fans will likely never experience anything as dramatic as the growth between 2006’s Waiter: “You Vultures” and their sophomore effort Church Mouth, new releases like 2010’s American Ghetto demonstrate Portugal. The Man’s commitment to innovation.

Like past releases, American Ghetto loosely draws upon and binds together jazz, electro, and blues for an organic, breezy listen.  The opening track, “The Dead Dog,” immediately hits returning fans with a sense of familiarity.  Lead vocalist John Baldwin Gourley’s smooth, continually flowing tone feels like anything off of 2008’s Censored Colors, with a hint of layered vocaling and electronic support that came to define 2009’s The Satanic Satanist.  Admittedly, “The Dead Dog” sounds a little too close for comfort to the previous two albums’ opening tracks, so thankfully what follows finds the band loosening up and flexing their creative muscles.

The immediately following “Break” harkens back to the experimental tendency of the band’s remix EP, It’s Complicated Being A Wizard.  Haunting swirling voices fade in and out as if being blown across a deserted plain, eventually leading into the melody defining “60 Years,” at which point the soundscape finally explodes into an unpredictable yet soothing array of bluesy guitar, almost tribal-like percussion, and a subtle pulsating electronic backing beat.  As with all great Portugal. tracks, subtlety is the key word here.  Influences flow together seamlessly, ultimately making mechanical dissection an injustice.  Tracks like “All My People” continue building on that toe-tapping, mellow groove, creating a deceptively engulfing aura.

The mellow pace continues up until somewhere around “The Pushers Party,” at which point a slight 70’s disco rock essence takes hold.  Again, this isn’t a sudden disco flare-up dropped seven tracks in, but part of an evolving soundscape.  In fact, when coupled with smart lyrics like “the pusher was the feet and the feet were the floor, when we got a little bit well we got a little more,” the groovy feel and sweeping backing “ahhs” add to the track’s “high” minded feel.  From here Portugal. gets bigger, escalating into singable gang vocals chanting “we don’t need you to do what we do,” enhanced with supporting handclaps and empowering bass work.

The remainder of the album finds the band winding down both lyrically and atmospherically.  Here, thanks to a slew of swirling synth tones in “Some Men” and “Just A Fool,” the American Ghetto solidifies what earlier presents itself as a mild psychedelic overtone.  Furthermore, “Just A Fool” marks a lyrical low point for an album that the band describes as an intensely personal journey into past friendships and poor decisions brought on by the realities of small town life.  Thankfully the final track livens things back up, delivering a guitar and synth driven feel-good ending to what, in retrospect, was a rather dark journey.

Portugal. The Man is without question one of the most intrinsically motivated bands out there.  American Ghetto yet again confirms their commitment to themselves, their vision, and their fans.  While I may be gushing about it now, I’ll concede that it took a few listens for American Ghetto’s ambition to dawn upon me.  But while American Ghetto might not have the immediate impact as some of their previous work, it contains an undeniable charm and delicate diversity of sound.  Portugal. The Man makes everything sound so natural that it’s sometimes easy to take their output for granted.  But there’s nothing mechanical here, just a finely crafted follow-up filled with as much love and dedication as anything Portugal. has ever touched.