Put on almost any Rolling Stones record and it is instantly recognizable as the Rolling Stones. There is no mistaking the gritty sound and straight-up rock 'n' roll riffs. Now, put on a Portugal. The Man album. It, too, is instantly recognizable by the complex layers and textures in each song, the monumental send-ups and whispered hushes surrounding John Gourley's falsetto voice and distinctive cadence.
But while one Stones album sounds a lot like any other, no two Portugal. The Man albums sound alike. For example, In the Mountain in the Cloud expanded on The Satanic Satanist with rich orchestration balancing raw, stripped-down moments and a couple of glam-ish power-pop masterpieces. The upcoming Danger Mouse-produced Evil Friends goes even further.
After the jump: A track-by-track teaser of Evil Friends, out June 4. Portugal. The Man plays April 17 at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.
Evil Friends is bolstered in places by rhythm and blues horn flourishes, lush harmonies, swelling string sections, swirly synths, gospel send-ups, and some new lyrical directions. Unlike earlier albums, references to Alaska, Gourley's and bassist Zach Carothers' former home, if still there, are hard to ascertain.
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Instead, one finds Gourley singing about war, Jesus, suicide, and a couple of negative social interactions -- perhaps the result of the growing fame facing the band after In The Mountain's success, and the constant toil of life as a touring machine. "Creep in a T-Shirt" could just as easily be about the slackers in the crowd as a band's stalker, or the average dude lurking about a frat party. "It's not that I'm evil / But I don't want to pretend / That I could never be your friend," Gourley sings in "Evil Friends," a shot perhaps, at the same stalker, bothersome fans or Facebook friend requests.
Here's a brief track-by-track teaser of Evil Friends:
Plastic Soldiers: Piano-driven low-key opener with strange synth effects, castanets, danceable backbeat, and assorted harmonies popping up in unexpected places.
Creep in a T-Shirt: More synths parlayed into a driving beat, gritty guitar lines, fleeting acoustic moments, and monster horns that lift the song above its dark undercurrent.
Evil Friends: Gentle acoustic guitars lure the listener in before a synth distorts the rhythm into a driving near-punk pulse of heavy fuzz bass and minor key guitars. "You'll never find a friend like me . . ."
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Modern Jesus: "You don't need sympathy / They got a pill for everything . . . Don't pray for us / We don't need no modern Jesus," Gourley sweetly sings over an almost playful beat that swells and plunges, yet remains intimately danceable.
Hip-Hop Kids: As straight-ahead rock 'n' roll as P.TM gets, with determined drumming, thunderous bass, and staccato guitar mixed with some quiet breaks. It's coming out the breaks where the song almost explodes in angst.
Atomic Man: Acoustic undertone, dark-edged electrics and affected vocals lead to the great line: "After you, hell should be easy." Someone's not happy, but you can dance to it.
Sea of Air: A calm, folky respite. Carefree and buoyant, the song drifts and floats on simple acoustic patterns, handclaps, Gourley's inviting voice and, well, a sea of air.
Waves: Dark organ, gloomy underwater guitars, heavy bottom end, and swirly synths keep this anti-war song dark and cynical, but it's equally poignant and hopeful.
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Holy Roller (Hallelujah): The gospel according to P.TM lives here. "Another day in the sunshine / Another day in the clouds," Gourley sings to open the song, giving way to a high-stepping drum-and-organ-rich beat that rises heavenward on a bullhorned vocal and full horn section.
Someday Believers: Pure power pop for now people, with lush strings, catchy hooks, flush harmonies, just over the top enough drumming and warbled guitar solos.
Purple Yellow Red and Blue: A scintillating beat and punchy organ leads carry this dark-feeling song full of Gourleyan whimsy and a chorus of "All I want to do is live in ecstasy / I know what's best for me / . . . All I want to feel is purple, yellow, red, and blue."
Smile: Another acoustic-driven song of hope and optimism in a world of negativity. Gourley keeps it positive as strings elevate the intensity over militaristic drumming, concluding with a refrain of "Plastic Soldiers" that meshes with stinging guitar interludes before collapsing in psychedelic fury.