By Skwerl at 2:41 AM Thursday, July 2nd 2009
Portugal. The Man is one of several Portland bands (via Wasilla, Alaska) that we’ve been keeping an eye trained on. Last year’s Censored Colors scored 4.5 stars out of 5 here, and Johnny’s interview with frontman John Gourley the following month remains one of our cooler conversations.
Continuing their tradition of an album every year since 2006, their fourth, The Satanic Satanist is set to arrive on July 21st. We thought Censored Colors was recorded quickly (especially given its quality), but their newest collection of eleven tracks was laid down in just a week and a half in a studio in North Boston’s Little Italy district.
And it might just be even better.
Their previous works have drawn comparisons to bands like The Mars Volta and Modest Mouse, with song structures not particularly defined, and a tendency towards the occasional noise-off or freestyle jazz-out jam session featuring the odd wailing falsetto. With their newest album, however, the band made a conscious decision to use more traditional song formats, and to prepare for the recording process more than they ever had before. As a result, The Satanic Satanist is in many ways their most straightforward record- it could even be considered pop- and yet the approach was their most experimental.
People Say is a flawlessly crafted song- I sampled less than ten seconds of it before hearing anything else, and immediately fell in love with it, assured that I’d get at least one new favorite song from the 35 minute LP. The chorus features gravitational lines, sung by the band in harmony: All the soldiers say it’ll be alright / We may make it through the war if we make it through the night… What a lucky day, yeah, we won the war / May have lost a million men, but we’ve got a million more…
The first track flows seamlessly into Work All Day, all rhythm, possibly the best slave song written in the past forty years, though the lack of competition in that category may only prove their originality. That track in turn flows seamlessly to the next, as almost every other track manages to.
The chord progressions in The Sun remind me of Oasis at their best, circa 1995, a perfect blend of tones; uplifting and inspiring without being too happy. The trio of ‘the’ songs it leads fit wonderfully together, with squealing guitars at the peak in The Home and a percussion-driven closer, The Woods.
The band has provided several promo videos teasing various tracks from The Satanic Satanist. Here’s one for The Home. View the rest on their YouTube channel.
I had high hopes for Guns And Dogs just given the name. I surely hoped the song didn’t point the former at the latter, but I’m just a sucker for certain icons. The song delivers several of them- Guns, Dogs, and God, to name three. The chorus conjures such soulful, classic songwriters as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and the Robinson brothers. Though it has a devilishly dark edge, the harmonies are backed up by oooh-oohs on the other end of the spectrum, giving the track real dimension. It’s a standout track on a five-star album, and every bit as good as I had wanted it to be.
Gourley addressed the album’s availability online well in advance of the July release date in a recent post on the band’s official site. It’s a big one, from the heart, and one worth reading. But at the core, he states:
I download music early. It is a great advance to the purchase. It is an early taste. It is an amazing treat for the fan. BUT. If you like these albums and these bands please buy the record. It means so much more… AND if we or any other band makes the mistake of making a record that you absolutely hate. Well, don’t buy it. Don’t waste your money… ANNNNNNNNNND that being said. My favorite albums have been growers. Just have a bit of patience with all of us artists. Its not always the easy listen right away.
He makes this point after explaining that while the “evil” music industry can be left for dead, some of today’s best bands could be at the top of the charts if more people still applied at least some level of sanctity to the act of purchasing a record, and showed their support with a ten dollar bill. One could take this scenario one step further and envision a new movement, if it could just be proven that there’s substantial commercial demand for product of true quality.
The rant struck a chord or two over here; What we strive to accomplish above anything else is to help great artists find bigger audiences. The instinct comes simply from wanting to share what we love with like minds (and ears), but underlying that is a respectful understanding that if the artists can find the commercial success they deserve, we can all take comfort in the fact that they’ll be able to continue to provide us with albums like The Satanic Satanist.
Few music addicts have the means to pay for everything they listen to, and I don’t want to turn this review into a PSA. But the bottom line is this is one that’s worth it. It’s good from start to finish, possibly the band’s best to date, and a perfect starting point for brand-new fans.