Releasing at least one album every year is not an easy thing to do for a band with a sound as complex as Portugal. The Man. It takes time and detail to orchestrate a complete album of harmony and musical tapestry. It was clear from the music videos that were available before the release that the band was aiming high with their 2011 offering. So with their latest album, does Portugal. The Man deliver an outstanding effort, or simply just another album to add to their discography and album release streak?In the Mountain in the Cloud opens with “So American”. A fun and bright opening track which includes violin and xylophone accompaniments. It sets a theme for the album that on first interpretation has political messages. While that message is strengthened on other tracks, lyrics and choruses, it doesn’t overwhelm the album which is a very good thing. It’s subtle enough to not be annoying, but relevant enough to matter. Listen to “So American” here:
“Floating” is a proper follow up to “So American”, but not a track that stands out as memorable, especially when it sits between two of the best songs on the album. “Got It All” is the most single ready song, and it features John Gourley (lead singer) using his unique pitch in various successful ways. While the song is a clear standout, the backing-vocals chorus lets down Gourley’s fantastic work just a bit on the song. Check out one of the epic videos for the album here:
Starting with “Senseless” things start to get a little lost for a few tracks. While the songs are not particularly bad, they continue the theme and sound of the first few songs, but add nothing new to the overall album experience. If you like your albums to have a familiar continuous sound, then you’ll probably enjoy “Senseless”, “Head Is A Flame” and “You Carried Us”. I didn’t- I wanted something new, something different to go around the sound of the band. On the first listen and even on the sixth, tracks 4 through 6 easily got skipped in my mind, and I found myself not coming back emotionally into the album until “Everything You See”. An argument can be made that getting lost in the music is part of Portugal. The Man’s appeal, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like boredom. “Everything You See” ends up feeling like the end to the first half of the album- a first half with ups and downs that could have made for an interesting 22 minute short film. The moment the bass line comes in for “All Your Light”, you know this experience is changing. While its not one of the strongest tracks, it becomes one of the most memorable just because it sounds so different from the rest of the album and changes the tempo significantly. “Once Was One” is a good song that feels like a reprise from a musical play, and that’s exactly the point where you start to realize that In the Mountain in the Cloud could be a musical with the proper dramatics. The story telling on In the Mountain in the Cloud is evident from the opening track, and doesn’t let up. There are a lot of lyrics and obvious internal dialogue from Gourley to digest in this album, which at times makes the music around it feel like a second though. When In the Mountain in the Cloud is at its best, the music comes first in your mind, and the storytelling adds to the experience. When it’s the other way around, the album loses your attention with an almost Muse-like ego. Alright, don’t freak out- this band is far from being anything like Muse, but the reach for epic storytelling is parallel. When done right, the album shines. When I saw Portugal. The Man for the first time live 4 months ago, I was immediately en-captured into their performance art. There was energy, there was complexity, and the music sounded fantastic live. I was hoping that this album would help to recreate that experience to some degree. While it does at times, it also left me wanting more. I have no doubt 3-4 of these songs will translate into mesmerizing live performances- and that’s a good thing. It’s worth making the journey to the final chapter of In the Mountain in the Cloud with “Sleep Forever”- you may not be amazed, but you won’t regret it.
~ A good album with some fantastic moments of musical storytelling and epic proportions. While the journey gets a little lost and dull on the way, it will leave you with a positive feeling and the urge to see the band perform the material live.