Portugal. The Man - Church Mouth Released July 24th, 2007
I'd almost rather be straight out with you, the reader, in regards to Portugal. The Man's Church Mouth. But with the album itself being just as quirky as my starting a review this way, something inside almost gnawingly begs of me to take some sort of twist or some sort of turn that, through writing, gives you a similar feeling(s) the album will end up springing within yourself as well. An 'experimentalist' quip? Observations on the eccentricities of basing a band out of Alaska? A prose piece with interludes of selected lyrics featured on the release? None of that will do or have already been played out by yours truly. And with that consideration -- has John Gourley's testy edge been played out already through It's Complicated Being a Wizard, Waiter: You Vultures!, and previous meanderings in Anatomy of a Ghost? Though this scene anomaly needs a few touch ups, these guys still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Bad mid-introduction paragraph segues or not, its hard to be straight out with this band when they escape any good description most self-respecting reviewers can throw at them. Being curiously labeled as "aurora borealis-avant-indie pop" somewhere along the way, it really goes to show you how a string of loosely affiliated "genres" can make quite an apt description without giving the label's PR department too much of a sweat.
Labels aside, those of you who have preordered the discussed album -- fear not. Church Mouth is a strong sophomore effort (...Wizard doesn't fucking count, guys). It just lacks the fun I could rely on in parts of Waiter. There's no "Chicago" grooves and that giddy excitement of hearing Portugal's distinct take on things is somewhat blunter than it was a year ago. There's more of a dependence on an apparent Led Zeppelin influence here; giving most of the songs a big rock backbone (namely "Bellies Are Full"). Songs like "Shade", on the other hand, rely on Gourley's extremely rhythmic verse progression and enigmatic lyrics like, "They glowed a bug burning at the ends of sheet covered crowns/Whose only words were wicked mumbles that shake unstable manners." Though differing moods are presented instrumentally throughout Church Mouth (even taking folk-acoustic in the beginning of "Sleeping Sleepers Sleep"), its all very carefully brought on. Nothing feels out of place.
Casey Bates did an excellent job at the helm of production. The abstract moments feel just twisted enough to stay outside normal standards without pushing boundaries to an annoying degree. The same goes for Gourley's vocals, which Scott Weber perfectly described as being "high-pitched without the slightest hint of whine". This isn't, however, a record you can immediately play back once finished. Its a pretty exhausting listen despite being just ten minutes over a half an hour and therefore doesn't beckon a replay 'til given a chance to digest.
It's just a shame I can't find more here than I did in Waiter: You Vultures! The band's individuality is intact -- its just that as they themselves have grown up, their sound has too. However, a dance-laden track wouldn't have fit in here and Church Mouth comes out with a conceptually mature sound that won't disappoint if listeners don't cling too much on the band's previous endeavor. Whether one wants to admit it not, Portugal. The Man continue to be a chewier piece of reality for those too used to sucking down pop-rock -- one that takes time to be enjoyed and makes the listener all the better for it. We may have found the musical rejuvenation the scene needed. Portugal. The Man could save us all.
I'm a huge fan of Portugal. The Man, their previous efforts, and I truly believe that John Gourley is a genius; that being said, after one listen of Church Mouth, I had a lot of trouble getting into it. Maybe with some more spins, it will grow on me.