Sound — 9
Alaska should soon be making a name for itself in the music world if there are any other groups out there that come close to sounding like Portugal. The Man. The band is a fascinating paradox, creating a Led Zeppelin-like sound, but at the same time aren't opposed to the occasional drum machine. Even with the experimentation, Portugal. The Man actually still evokes a more timeless rock sound -- and the look for that matter. The band absolutely recalls classic bands, from their seventies-inspired clothes and facial hair to the exploding percussion and raw rhythm section on the band's latest CD Church Mouth, but this trio is much more than just a typical classic rock band. The songs on Church Mouth do tend to recall some early bluesy classic rock songs, but you don't dwell too long on the similarities thanks to band throwing out unusual arrangements that take each song in different directions. The Bottom starts out almost like a '60s style rock song, and it features a very cool guitar line that essentially doubles everything in the vocal melody line. A steady stream of percussion and keyboards back up the verse section, reinforcing the '60s vibe. But The Bottom suddenly turns into a fascinating mix of The White Stripes, Queens Of The Stone Age, and a bevy of other contemporary acts. It's a very cool combo, and this hybrid of styles is fairly typical of the songs on Church Mouth. The Zeppelin similarities mentioned earlier come from the fact that Portugal. The Man gives each song a bigger-than-life, often bluesy sound, not to mention the Robert Plant-ish vocals. Bellies Are Full immediately lures you in with a bluesy guitar riff that eventually will be built upon by what seems like layer upon layer of instrumentation. It's hard to say if the band went all-out and recorded dozens of tracks to create a huge sound, but kudos to a 3-piece for creating the sound of a 10-piece. While the guitar work doesn't necessarily match up with Jimmy Page, the band as a whole has a booming sound that makes every song an event. Portugal. The Man is a band worthy of checking out if you haven't heard their music before. Between the intriguing vocal style of John Gourley and the exploding finales of each song, you don't get short-changed. The band even adds in the unusual addition of linking the closing two songs Sleeping Sleepers Sleep and Sun Brother together with a heartbeat. Sun Brother plays only briefly before the heartbeat once again makes an appearance. The band is phenomenal at creating a mood that you just don't get on the average radio single, and it's safe to say Portugal. The Man will be considered a little too deep or edgy for your average station's airplay.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics weren't included in our edition of Church Mouth, and it's not always the easiest thing to make out the lyrics. While you can get the general gist of what Gourley is singing about, the details do get lost at times because of the wall of sound made by the instruments. Apparently Gourley doesn't write the lyrics until the band is actually in the studio during the recording process, so it is fascinating to hear what the results of that process. The lyrics range from abstract imagery to standard rock lines, but that duality actually fits with the record's constant bouncing between genres -- whether it be a psychedelic, trippy tune or straightforward blues solo section.
Overall Impression — 9
A huge part of the band's sound is Gourley's vocal range, which is flawless at adapting to higher ranges. Gourley takes that talent out of his arsenal only at key points and doesn't ever overdo it. There are quite a few sections in which his vocal track is doubled (and possibly tripled), and at times he'll have a few different vocals singing in rounds. Church Mouth is beautifully produced and it's a record you'll likely have to listen to several times to detect all that's going on. Portugal. The Man has been making the rounds a bit more with bands like Circa Survive, and the Alaska natives are hopefully gaining a few more new fans along the way. It's refreshing to hear a band that doesn't have to resort to screaming to keep things moving along, and yet it still has enough musical sections within a song to keep the songs interesting. Even so, there's much more than just a traditional rock sound on Church Mouth, and if you aren't afraid of a drum machine or computer loop along the way, Portugal. The Man is a must-hear band.