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Portugal. The Man – The Satanic Satanist

on August 24, 2009, 4:00pm
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To summarize: Portugal. The Man’s latest release, The Satanic Satanist, comes up with many interesting sounds and squeezes in a few good tracks. However, repetitive structures and tempos quickly bog the record down and keep the collection of songs from ascending to a true album.

That says it all, right? Wrong.

First off, the band sounds really great on this record. John Gourley’s voice is in top form, and he often turns to a seductive falsetto that’s begging to rejoin the disco era. There’s some psychedelic flair, too. Favoring a wah-wah effect, Gourley’s guitar work takes on multiple forms throughout the record. If it’s not distorted, it’s altered to an extent, though all in less than obvious ways. At times, it sounds like he’s intentionally deadening the strings while keeping the effect on. This creates a slippery, yet scratchy sound. Drummer Jason Sechrist, who should be commended here, follows the erratic change ups, moving from lighter drum fills to the groovier style of rap rock to even militaristic slamming.

All this bodes well for The Satanic Satanist… at first. Opening track, “People Say”, kicks off with an elevating guitar that moves into a Brit-pop-styled tune that seems right out of Oasis’ playbook , that is until the chorus kicks in. The aforementioned multi-layered falsetto sneaks its way in, and it’s beautiful and powerful, taking the entire track into fresh territory. Of course, no one can ignore Zachary Scott Carothers’ funky bass lines, as they figure prominently here.

Hip-hop drumming and slightly stuttered guitar work follows with “Work All Day”. Save for the drumming, the rest of this track is just a straightforward traditional rock song, and disappointing compared to what we’re introduced to previously. “Lovers In Love” starts out promising, what with a techno-ish arpeggio that sounds like an incoming transmission from space, but sadly, that lasts for about 15 seconds before a wonky guitar part comes in, playing behind, you guessed it, a falsetto chorus. Sound familiar?

This is the problem with The Satanic Satanist. While many songs have interesting noises going on, the band regulates them to the background or uses them for short intros/exits. Nearly every track sticks to the format: a slightly catchy guitar part played over a falsetto chorus. While that isn’t so much of a problem by itself, the fact that nearly every song has the same tempo makes all of them bleed together. Individually, it’s all pretty good, but together it’s far too repetitive. The parts don’t equal a whole, the parts are just that…parts.

But even the little variety to be found in this record ultimately becomes monotonous. Near the end, “Let You Down” moves away from the guitar and becomes a piano-only piece, albeit some strange yet likable blips in the background. While it’s only a shy over two minutes long, the song suffers from playing only the same three or four note arrangement over and over. In the end, the track works better as an interlude than a full-length effort. Even at it’s basic element — a song — the parts don’t work together at times.

Compared to last year’s release, Censored Colors, The Satanic Satanist seems very plain and by-the-numbers. Instead of using experimental songs to drive traditional work into new territory, the band almost forces experimental sounds into pretty basic tracks. Now, this doesn’t mean that the songs are bad. Most of them are supported with catchy guitar riffs and excellent arrangements. What struggles is the album as a whole, at least in this format. Lesson to be learned: Even the best arrangement loses its shine after you hear it 11 times.

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