Poor PORTUGAL. THE MAN. They’ve been around for nearly ten years now, putting out albums in an annual regularity and literally toured their asses off. But still, even though they signed to a Major a while ago, there’s nothing one could call anything like sutainable commercial success. So, even for these unswerving guys from Alaska it was about time to take some rest and reconsider themselves as a band. With Evil Friends, their 8th album, they now seem to be willing and ready for the next big step – with a little help from someone called DANGER MOUSE. Now that those two got together, one can’t help but wonder why this collaboration didn’t came into being a little earlier. Brian Burton’s distinctive production seems to be the perfect match for the anti-pop of PORTUGAL. THE MAN, which always seemed to be a bit out of it but now found its most accessible form.
Of course this is by no means any sort of cheesy, empty pop-music. We still hear the odd twists and turns, the wasteful hymns of youth and rebellion we loved about PTM in the first place. Bandleader and singer John Gourley knows how to act as a strange mixture between BRIAN WILSON and Kevin Barnes (OF MONTREAL) which makes out for a pretty cool Jekyll/Hyde-kind of basis on Evil Friends. We got the harmless pop on the one and the outrages of mental instability on the other hand, everything domesticated by DANGER MOUSE. Speaking of him, this work could be described as a combination of Dark Night Of The Soul and his work with the BROKEN BELLS – these songs are somewhere in the middle of the cheerfulness of THE SHINS‘ James Mercer and the bleak visions of SPARKLEHORSE. What sounds like an experiment born to fail, works out because of the band’s musical variety.
There’s for example Creep In A T-Shirt – a song with no time for restrictions, galloping over the piano musically and the arm of the law lyrically: “I’m sorry Mr. Policeman, if I wanted to talk I would have called a friend.”. And honestly, there’s been few examples of the typical 90s creep-thematics that hit so hard like the dazzling confusion in this song: “I don’t know what I know, but I know where it’s at/ just because I lost it doesn’t mean I want it back”. A bit of freakyness is contained in almost every song, though. At times it is expressed pretty directly and forward-rocking (Evil Friends), but sometimes it searches its abysmal bliss in sudden choiry breaks as in Atomic Man: “Always talking but the kids never listen/ they die in the eve and become demons for the weekend”. Pretty rough stuff, showing that this is no music like harmless, fluffy toys, this record is a dangerous item you are nonetheless invited to play and have your fun with.
Of course this one will be somekind of a splitter again, as it is always the case with the albums that are constantly and obiously trying to balance things out. But who cares? If someone asks you with which record one should begin listening to PORTUGAL. THE MAN – this is your choice. Evil Friends is the perfect amalgam of edgy freakiness and a sense for irressistible tunes, making PORTUGAL. THE MAN the stars of anti-pop!