Review Summary: American Ghetto is the album no one could have expected Portugal. The Man to make just months after their previous release.
Back in October 2009, just two months after the release of Portugal. The Man's fourth studio album The Satanic Satanist
, the band quietly announced a new album was already in the works. Like many, I was weary of what was to come with this mysterious new album: Would it just be a b-sides collection? Would it sound rushed? Has the band finally lost their minds? Luckily for the music loving community none of my preconceptions about American Ghetto
came true (actually I think the band lost their minds from the beginning, so maybe I was half right about that one.) What did come to existence is another soulful record from one of the most prolific bands around today.
In actuality, if Portugal had not released an album in 2010 it would have come as an even bigger surprise. Since the release of the band's debut album Waiter: "You Vultures!"
in 2006 Portugal have released an album a year, most times with an EP in between releases. In fact, frontman John Gourley finds it humorous that many see their album-a-year model surprising: "I always think this is the funniest question to ask, how do you write an album every year...but I mean, it's a year man [laughs]," he stated in a recent interview with KCRW. Those well versed in Portugal's discography will tell you that the band does not make the same album twice. So where does American Ghetto
fit in with the rest of the band's work? Let's just say this isn't just a bunch of tracks leftover from The Satanic Satanist
Many elements found on American Ghetto
can be traced back to earlier albums: the electronic beats of It's Complicated Being A Wizard
, the bluesy guitar riffs of Church Mouth
, the quirkiness and soul of The Satanic Satanist
and the composed vocal stylings of Waiter
; however American Ghetto
is its own monster. The biggest thing Portugal took away from their experience thus far is their new found ability to construct an album full of consistent songs. Up until the release of The Satanic Satanist
the band had struggled with lengthy albums plagued by songs that aren't quite up to par; but no longer, Satanist
nestled the band into a perfect place of 35 minutes/11 solid songs. Instead of trying to pack as many ideas into a song as possible Portugal cut the fat and kept the jams for the stage, making easily digestible songs and albums with zero-filler. Even with their new view on songwriting Portugal maintained what made their song's great in the first place - the hodgepodge of rock, indie, blues and any other genre they decide to take on.
The songs found on American Ghetto
span many different emotions and sounds. Even though almost every song is focused around electronic beats they all feel very human and lively, even more so than the experimental EP It's Complicated Being A Wizard
. Buried underneath the electronic noise is the signature bluesy guitar riffs, groovy bass and booming drums found on every Portugal album. The band has truly found an even harmony between synthesized beats and regular rock instruments. The band have crafted some of their most upbeat and catchy songs on the album such as lead single and brilliant opener 'The Dead Dog,' single candidate #2 '60 years,' '1000 years' and unlikely closer but infectiously catchy 'When The War Ends.' On the other half of the album the band goes in the complete opposite direction with depressingly dark songs like 'Just a Fool' and 'Some Men.' Lyrically American Ghetto
is Portugal's most clear cut and consistent, focusing around the band's roots in Alaska and experiences as a band. Zoe Manville rejoins the band again to balance out John Gourley's restrained singing. Unlike on Satanist
where Gourley let his voice loose any chance he could John dials it back a few notches and allows Zoe to hit the highs.
There is a lot to love about American Ghetto
. Musically and lyrically it is just as consistent, if not more, than any of the band's earlier works. Each of the 11 songs are solid in their own right, leaving the album with little to no filler. The biggest flaw of the album is the flow. The Satanic Satanist
flowed beautifully between it's 11 tracks - each track segued into the next and the album moved between moods almost effortlessly. The same can not be said for American Ghetto
. The beginning half of the album and the last half of the album are polar opposites in terms of mood. Closer 'When The War Ends' may be Portugal's most radio friendly and catchy song, but why is it ending an album? The emotional previous track 'Some Men' would have worked much better as a closer. With a little track reorganization the album would have been a much more cohesive work like its predecessor.
is the album no one could have expected Portugal. The Man to make just months after their previous release. The band takes on a brand new sound and wields it with mastery just as they had done in the past. Other band's should take note - you don't need 5 years to put out an excellent album; at least if you're Portugal. The Man you don't.