The best that Alaska has to offer isn’t half bad. Portugal. The Man (yes, the period belongs there), a product of Wasilla, have just released their sixth album, “American Ghetto.” Armed with hip-hop drum machines, synth loops, and vocal harmonies to rival indie darlings MGMT and Arcade Fire, Portugal. The Man jams their vast array of talents into 11 songs and college students’ headphones across the United States.
The album’s opener, “The Dead Dog,” presents the listener with a mixture of what is to come, melding a catchy chorus with laid-back vocals, thudding Beastie Boys drums, and spastic guitar riffs. After a short “Break” (which is oddly placed after only one song), the album hits its stride with three classic tunes – “60 Years,” “All My People,” and “1000 Years” – that capitalize on frontman John Baldwin Gourley’s knack for creating memorable pop hooks.
The highlight is “All My People,” which shifts from gloomy melodies and acoustic guitar to an uplifting climax as many times as it can get away with.
The chorus of “1000 Years” is half-haunting and half-ecstasy, a beautiful conglomeration of synth, electric guitar, falsetto, and whatever else the boys from Wasilla could fit into the studio.
After the euphoric opening, Portugal. The Man’s sound shifts into a melancholy set of songs and much experimentation. “Fantastic Pace” slides into a funky jam that bears no resemblance to the rest of the track, and “The Pushers Party” continues the laid-back trend, washing a classic rock sound over wistful lyrics. Gourley cockily spouts “we don’t need you” on “Do What We Do,” and does his best Thom Yorke impression on “Just a Fool.”
The chill session finishes with “Some Men,” a quality song, but a trail of tired tunes makes the middle of the album blend together. “When the War Ends” sends us off on an upbeat note and qualifies as a catchy indie song for big companies trying to appear hip in their commercials.
Portugal. The Man’s latest effort is a tasty piece of college radio that can have those who like to dance and sing along immediately addicted. Those who love finding great indie samples have numerous places to look. You can’t call them crazy anymore if they start their search in Alaska.