Thursday, July 23, 2009

Portugal.The Man- The Satanic Satanist

On their last album, Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket often made ill advised forays into falsetto driven funk and white boy R&B-isms. It came off as almost as a joke to these ears, like something they should've relegated to the outtake bin or a throwaway EP. Granted, while I like funk and R&B, I don't actively listen to either. They aren't part of the music I "follow", so to speak, so the few times they intersect the music I love, it often feels forced or bad. Strangely, then, I find Portugal. The Man (yes, it's punctuated that way, period and all) to be a successful example of an indie rock band picking up on funk/soul/R&B and doing something fun and satisfying with it.

True, the band's name is unwieldy. True, the album art for the CD edition is some kind of weird fold-out thing that is awesome but, along with the album title (which nods to the Rolling Stones's Their Satanic Majesties Request, or so I assume), it will make you expect something far more psychedelic and weird than what is on display. That said, The Satantic Satanist does bring to mind a lot of late 60s and 70s music in a general sense. The band's hooks and melodic moments show a gift for songwriting that belies a youth spent listening to classic rock and pop tunes.

It's pretty strange that members of the band come from Alaska, since this album has such a fun, summery sound to it. The commanding opening song 'People Say' leads directly into the next song 'Work All Day' on a chorus of voices and a groovy organ line before the funky beat of the latter song kicks in. 'The Sun' display's singer John Gourley's excellent falsetto-reaching vocals in full; at times he can sound like Jack White if Jack White could sing in the sense that 60s pop/rock bands could sing, on key and clear. Whether built with loops or not, there's no denying the grooves and rhythms of songs like the psychedelic tinged 'Everyone Is Golden.' Closer 'Mornings' is appropriately epic in feel but still makes time to nod back to the soldier motif of the first song, giving the album a cyclical feel.

Bonus points for keeping it short; it helps a lot that at less than 35 minutes the album never repeats an idea or overstays its welcome. After each subsequent listen I found myself wanting to hear the album more and more, to dig back into the rocking 'Do You' or the subtle bongos on the chorus of 'Lovers In Love.' There's just something about succint-but-awesome albums that make them endlessly listenable, from Revolver by the Beatles to Surfer Rosa by Pixies to In Rainbows by Radiohead.

The Satantic Satanist is a pleasant surprise of an album, a bonafide summer release that sounds great while drinking down the sun with some friends or while cruising home after you get out of work on a Friday. And while more often than not, bands you've never heard of tend to be terrible and overrated by their local fans and press, Portugal. The Man are one example of a band that I feel deserves more attention and love, if only because they prove that if your songwriting and music is good enough, you can make a R&B/soul/funk tinged album that even I can love.

No comments: