As this album was released to anyone and everyone at the exact same time via internet, this review is based on my immediate reaction and was posted two hours after I first heard any of the songs.
It only took a few songs to realize that this was an outstanding follow-up to last year’s The Satanic Satanist and that it wasn’t going to disappoint. It also didn’t take long to realize that it was a lot different than The Satanic Satanistas well. As is tradition for Portugal. The Man, they stayed true to their sound while evolving and completely changing almost everything about themselves. I don’t know how that is possible either, but I’m glad they’ve found out how to do that because it makes every album and experience all of its own, incomparable to anything.
“The Dead Dog” – The opening guitar riff with its distortion is a bit heavier than we’re used to with Portugal. The Man. It’s very dark and ominous sounding, and it did take a few listens for it to grow on me. I love the almost discordant guitar during the chorus, it makes the song. I wish the mixing was a bit better on this song so that the vocals would be a bit easier to hear.
“Break” – The random, spontaneous noises are irresistible. Great keyboard sounds, I love how easily this song fades into “60 Years” – I didn’t even realize the song changed!
“60 Years” – Oh, John Gourley, your soft voice. The sound is reminiscent of 2006′s “Tommy,” which is definitely groovy. Also, is that Zoe Manville I hear? It’s nice to hear her voice so prominently, as it sort of took a back seat on The Satanic Satanist. This song also sounds a lot like “Work All Day.” I really love the vocal melody the best, and the same familiar guitar scale that Gourley seems to love so much. We’re certainly not complaining about this, because it works. The more I listen to this song, the more I feel like it’s the guitar for “Tommy” reworked for lyrics that worked.
“All My People” - I instantly loved this track. It continues the groove and I adored the sound. I am really drawn to the more organic sound of this album; I love the “oohs” and “aahs” throughout this song, they’re like nothing I’ve ever heard before.“Deeper in and deeper still,” has such a great beat to it. The line, “hands by your side” catches me off guard- it sounds like John Gourley has “grown up.” This is the first song that made me do a mental double take and recognize John’s new vocal sound. “All My People” is also reminiscent of a few Atmosphere songs.
“1000 Years” - The guitar work is amazing; Portugal. really outdid themselves experimentally on this new album. For a second, “1000 Years” sounds slightly like a broken record, which is so interesting and doesn’t sound bad at all, as the words “broken record” would imply. I love the line “the friends you have mean everything” and this track is such a groove! While I hear a lot that has previously been on their albums before, this album has reworked those elements into this new sound. It’s great to hear such an operatic voice like Zoe Manville’s in a rock atmosphere, it’s so fresh and I wonder why it isn’t used more.
“Fantastic Pace” – John Gourley’s voice sounds so different! It is so much deeper than it normally is, even when he is singing at a higher pitched range. The piano is a wonderful addition to this track. The melody during the line, “no one wants you” is beautiful, and I am really loving the vocals on this album. There are so many interwoven parts to this new sound. This track is stripped down beautifully to just the basic elements and yet it still has such a large sound. The album definitely has a more “driving down the road in a cult film smoking a cig with a menacing look on our face as we leave the burning city behind us” sound to it. It’s got parts of “AKA M80 The Wolf”s dark sounding bass line. I could be crazy, but this song also reminds me of The Nails’ song “88 Lines About 44 Women,” but then it goes into this very unexpected funky groove that made me check to make sure the song didn’t change.
“The Pushers Party” – The opening guitar riffs to this song belong in a classic rock song, but I’m glad they pushed their way into “The Pushers Party.” I love the bongos in the beginning, it adds to the stripped down sound. I was not expecting this kind of sound from the new album, but I love that Portugal always keeps you guessing. “The Pushers Party” is, at this point, my favorite track of the new album. What I consider to be the chorus of this song “the pusher was the feet and the feet were the floor, when we got a little bit well we got a little more“ is brilliant, I would give the album a perfect 5 based on hearing only that part. The very beginning of this song sounds a lot like “The Woods”, which is my favorite Portugal. The Man song out of all of their songs, (specifically the line in “The Woods” “I breathe in time to be where I was, if I need, better give me all your love” ) but very deep instead of in falsetto. As always, I love the “ahhs.”
“Do What We Do” – Zoe’s voice plus an amazing bass line add so much to this track. I have always loved John and Zoe’s voices together, and the beauty of the combination is especially evident here. The line, “we don’t need you to do what we do,” shows the great gang vocals. There is such an airy feel to their voices, punctuated with the synthesizers. I love the percussion instruments that have been added in this song, as well as the hand claps. There’s that familiar falsetto from John, still dreamy as ever; that’s something I’ve always loved about his voice…it isn’t nasally like it could be. Call me crazy, but this is another song that reminds me of “88 Lines About 44 Women” by The Nails, but only the very beginning before the vocals start.
“Just A Fool” – This song shows a wonderful new synth sound for Portugal. John’s vocals sound so much more mature, and while this track was a definite risk for the band, I feel that it was well worth it in the end. It is, however, the least upbeat and most boring song on the album, although, because of the caliber of the songs, boring isn’t really saying anything. I’m glad that they put it where they did on the album because it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the album, instead it acts as an interlude.
“Some Men” -Again, “Some Men” marks a risk by the band. However, when John’s soft voice comes in, it’s easy to forget about the somewhat annoying noise during the song’s opening – and if you still have doubts, the beautiful synths come in to demolish any annoyance the beginning offered. The acoustic guitar mixed with the synth is a perfect combination. My favorite guitar piece on the album comes in during the line, “never gonna change, never gonna change.” The spacey noises of this song and the fact that it still sounds so stripped down makes me love this. I love the lines in the chorus, “we watched him grow from a little person and as he grew into a bigger person, he stood above the people, all these little people, and everyone below, they were just little people” and “We watched him grow into a bigger person and as he grew into a giant person, he stood above the clouds and all these little people, and as they looked above, they were just little people,” the melody on those lines is just perfect.
“When The War Ends” – It has an incredibly beautiful guitar sound that I haven’t heard from Portugal. until now. It’s amazing how deep John is singing on this new album. This is the most “mainstream” song on this album, and could not be a better ending to American Ghetto. I think I even detect a touch of sitar – a nice touch. I love this song. I think this album had a lot more parts working together, like the guitar or keyboard following the vocal melody and that’s refreshing out of Portugal. The Man. I particularly love the resurgence and fade out – I wasn’t expecting that at all, but it works amazingly well. “When the war ends, we’ll wonder what it was about,” could that line be any more accurate?
Basically: I love this album. It’s everything you would expect from Portugal. The Man, including elements you loved about each album, like acoustics and harmonies from Censored Colors, grooves from Waiter: “You Vultures!”, catchy beats and vocals fromThe Satanic Satanist, and classic guitar from Church Mouth. The only people who won’t immediately fall in love with this album (in my opinion) are people who were introduced to Portugal. through Censored Colors, which I have only recently fallen in love with, after years of listening to it. American Ghetto certainly has some outstanding tracks with completely new sounds, new instruments, and new styles, but it isn’t so different than it wont fit into Portugal. The Man’s already eclectic discography.
Best song: It’s a tie between “All My People,” “The Pushers Party,” and “When The War Ends.”
It’s available for pre-sale (with an immediate digital download) and streaming at http://portugaltheman.com/ghetto/