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Portugal. The Man – American Ghetto

on April 15, 2010, 8:01am
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Portugal. The Man gets a bum rap. They are extremely talented musicians who, I feel, are the victims of circumstance, or more specifically: the victim of bad touring choices. They’ve toured extensively with bands like Circa Survive, The Fall of Troy, Thursday, and a holy host of other bands with similar hard-core backgrounds. There is a certain affiliation with Minus The Bear that is natural and makes sense, but for the most part I feel as though P.TM are presenting themselves to the wrong audiences. It’s a marketing problem. The music they create is nothing like the above mentioned bands; thus, their music hasn’t reached the right ears. Instead it’s wasted on the post-hardcore scene.

And while getting your music to the widest variety of audiences is important, I feel that they’ve been “looking for love in all the wrong places,” to quote the perceptive Young MC. Portugal. The Man should be touring with bands like The Mars Volta, Porcupine Tree, or Cursive. Those are the types of audiences that would receive them well and create casual fans, of which there are currently very few. With Portugal, you either love them or you hate them, no in between. And that’s exactly how this album will be for most listeners. You’ll either love it or you will hate it.

As one who tends to side with the Portugal lovers, I speak with great dismay that American Ghetto is not the triumph they were looking for, but it’s not terrible, either. It hits some high highs, but then occasionally dips into the unlistenable category. They are a hard band to predict. With five releases in the past five years, you’d think that they’d begin to spit out the same drivel at some point, but this is certainly not the case. This album is such a big shift from last July’s very psychedelic Of Montreal-esque Satanic Satanist. Ghetto gives off much heavier vibes in every way. Artistically, musically, and lyrically, this album is all-around more serious than their previous effort. The opening track, “The Dead Dog” reveals instantly the more ethereal side of Portugal. It sports a borderline hip hop beat juxtaposed against immense, echoing guitar. This track introduces the listener to the airy, yet heavy setting Portugal. The Man will revisit several times throughout the album.

Typically, that versatile ability to go from writing psychedelic pop songs to getting dark and ominous within a matter of seconds tends to be their downfall, as it often comes across as scattered, but in the case of Ghetto, it proves to be the lift that redeems the album. The fact that they can give you a track that you never want to listen to again, and then the very next second provide you with a track that will make your weekly playlists for weeks to come is a rare ability. At the very least their musical versatility keeps the listener interested throughout this release.

This one plays a bit like a Mars Volta album: extremely hard to follow, jumping from theme to theme. Lyrically, it is a muddled mess. It does have its usual catchy choruses, from chants of “No one wants you” on the track “Fantastic Pace” to the irresistibly striking melody “Keep your hands by your side, hands by your side, soon will be your time” on the track “All My People”. But the overall consistency in subject matter is far from solid. The pictures painted by lyricist/vocalist John Gourley are irrevocably vivid, “He was born in the first grade, hungry little lion, swallowed all he saw, still he’s barely alive. He was a colorful person born of some colorful people; opened up his mouth he poured some colorful speeches.”, but he leaves a little too much up to the imagination and leaves the listener ultimately confused.

All in all, this will not be one to win over the aforementioned “casual crowd.” It has plenty of gems for the hard-core fans, but also plenty messy, forgettable songs for the haters. On the whole, this one is unfortunately not an album you will be listening to frequently in the coming months and years.

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