Review Summary: "Those days are done/But I'm still glowing"
Portugal. The Man is back after nearly four years without a release, a noticeable change of pace for a band that released an album-a-year from 2006-2013. The Portland-based rockers have been touring the globe since last Summer and show no signs of stopping, in lieu of the release of Woodstock, and the success of their highest charting single to date, “Feel it Still.”
A departure in sound is always promised, from album to album, by band nucleus, John Baldwin Gourley (Guitar/Vocals/Lyrics) and Zachary Scott Carothers (Bass/Vocals), and Portugal. The Man has yet again delivered on that mission.
This time, past collaborators such as John Hill, Casey Bates & Danger Mouse stepped in to assist, while new friends, Asa Taccone, of Electric Guest, and Mike D., of the Beastie Boys, were enlisted to craft the new atmosphere.
Where do we start?
“Easy Tiger” and “Tidal Wave” contain enough electronic nuances, bass swells & ‘boom-baps’ to hardly resemble any former Portugal. The Man material. In fact, if not for Gourley’s jovial falsetto, one simply might not recognize who is performing these songs. The latter is sure to be a radio success, with glossy production, and a similar tone to Twenty One Pilots.
Most songs feature more sampled/programmed drums, and a heavier amount of Kyle O’Quin’s synthesizers, than any other Portugal. The Man record. This is far similar to 2010’s beat-based, “American Ghetto,” than the highly-favored, psychedelic turn, “The Satanic Satanist.” And to the joy, or dismay, of Portugal. The Man fans, it’s not even close.
This is Portugal. The Man’s biggest departure in sound yet, and it is even clearer on the cut “Mr. Lonely,” featuring Fat Lip from the Pharcyde (really), in which a lower pitched Gourley riffs on his...well, loneliness...to the lo-fi atmosphere brought forward by Zachary Carothers’ bass work.
Speaking of the bass guitar work, Carothers’ low-end is clearly hip-hop inspired, and rhythmically pushes the songs forward in engaging ways on Woodstock. “Keep On,” “So Young” and the lead single, “Feel it Still” are just a few examples of his dutifully inspired playing. On an LP of scattered, multifaceted ideas, Carothers is an anchor that holds it down and helps it make sense.
“Number One” bears the most relation to the Woodstock theme, with a sample from the opening of Richie Havens’ 1968 festival set, and lyrics that urge outsiders to stick together in these trying, political times. The theme originated from a conversation John Gourley had with his father at home in Alaska; after finding his original ticket from Woodstock ‘68, Gourley’s father shared it with his son, causing a change of heart and creative direction. 40+ songs were subsequently scrapped, and the theme was converted from “Gloomin’ + Doomin’,” the proposed double-album, to Woodstock.
So what’s the catch?
Woodstock is a solid stepping stone for Portugal. The Man, but an unfocused one. Most of these tracks should work well as singles, commercially, but one problem is that the album is composed entirely of them. Without any deep cuts for the fans to savor for themselves, something authentic is lost in translation. The polished production from superstars like Danger Mouse & Mike D. is welcome, but the result is seemingly cluttered with layers of sounds and samples.
Make no mistake, tracks like “Live in the Moment,” “Tidal Wave” and “Rich Friends” are surely primed for commercial success, but the flip-side is that an amount of identity may have been shed in the making of. Typical Gourley-patented guitar leads of the “Senseless” and “AKA M80 the Wolf” days are there, but largely absent from most of the record, buried in the mix, making more room for syncopated hi-hats, reverb and samples.
Credit should be given to Portugal. The Man, however, for continuing to toy with samples, and toeing the line of the rock music genre with their electronic and hip-hop influences. Woodstock is a creative throwback to an era that is now nearly 50 years old, and it never sounded so relevant.
- "Easy Tiger"
- "Feel it Still"
- "So Young"
- "Tidal Wave"