Portugal. The Man – In The Mountain. In The Clouds

  • Cole Faulkner posted
  • Reviews

Portugal. The Man

In The Mountain. In The Clouds. - Atlantic Records

I can’t believe I’m about to suggest this, but Portugal. The Man is entering a creative rut.  On their sixth album in as many years, In The Mountain In The Cloud, the prolific Alaskan indie group struggles at introducing new elements to their existing repertoire.  For a group I hold so highly for their commitment to innovation, In The Mountain In The Cloud takes a while to define itself against the band’s impressive discography.  The music remains sonically sound, but fewer songs achieve as much immediate impact.

Opening with “So American,” the song includes their signature fusion of jazz, blues, and electro, but lacks that essential, ear-grabbing touch.  John Baldwin Gourley’s high-pitched falsetto flows as strong as ever, but at this point falls victim to familiar set of vocal patterns.  Rhythmically so similar to anything on American Ghetto or The Satanic Satanist, tracks like “Floating (Time Isn’t Working My Side)” come across borderline self-plagiaristic.  Rather than growing their sound by experimenting with new elements, they mask new inclusions with familiar R&B beats that do more to remind of past songs than excite about new material.  For instance, “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now)” and “Senseless” subtly employ bongos, violins, and heavy fuzz in an effort to stand appart from the crowd, but the all too familiar beat heavy rhythm acts as a roadblock.

Only half way into the album does Portugal. The Man regain their composure.  “You Carried Us (Share The Sun With Me)” gets it right with its experimental spirit with a super catchy chorus, and hint of traditional Chinese time signatures shaping the rest of the backdrop’s swirling psychedelic composition.  It marks the first stand alone sound that could be used to differentiate In The Mountain In The Cloudfrom their past few releases.  Building on the strength comes “Everything You See (Kids Count Hallelujahs),” introducing a mellow salvo of horn blasts, seamless keyboard swoops, and shimmering electronic flickers.  That something as simple as horns can make for such a refreshing change of pace is telling of the album’s early rut.

Despite initial disappointment, the album contains one of my new favourite Portugal. songs in “All Your Life (Times Like These).”  Focusing on heavy tones, including deep electronic thumping and commanding piano bass notes, the backdrop takes a break from Portugal.’s usual pitchy selves.  Toping off the track, the chorus throws in somewhat of a vocal wildcard of dark, pulsating backing voices that irk any sense of predictability.  A close second follows suit with “Once Was One,” which takes a refreshingly simple pseudo-acoustic approach featuring a particularly powerful chorus.

As someone who has kept up with Portugal. The Man’s busy schedule, In The Mountain In The Cloud presents a dilemna.  Even with a redeeming concluding half, the group has hit a creative saturation point.  They haven’t introduced any new elements over the past few records, and most troubling, they’re quick to revisit the familiar rhythmic patterns they one pioneered.  That’s not to say that In The Mountain In The Cloud is a disappointment – as with everything Portugal. it brims with talent, and includes some great new additions to their library – but the band’s present trajectory feels stale.  The band hasn’t taken time off from writing since their debut full length, but they might be well advised to take a vacation and return to work with a fresh mind.  At this rate fans can expect something good every year, but I’m sure thePortugal. The Man faithful would be more that willing to wait a little longer to once again sink their teeth into something great.