After breaking into the national collective musical consciousness with 2009’s epic masterpiece The Satanic Satanist, Portugal. The Man‘s 2010’s follow-up, American Ghetto, seemed – dare I say – polite. It was soulful and groovy and, above all, remarkably consistent given the band’s recording prolificness, but it felt restrained and disjointed in the wake of the explosive psychedelic tour de force from another universe that was The Satanic Satanist.
For their major label debut, Portugal. The Man replaces the heavy progressive rock leanings of their previous album with a headlong dive into the bouyant, glam-ed out energy that has become a hallmark of their live performances. And while fluid improvisational jams are also part of a PTM show, producer John Hill (the man behind Shakira and Santigold’s success and an unexpected ally to these Alaska-by-way-of-Portland art-rockers) refuses to embark on the nearly-always-unsuccessful mission to capture the bliss of extended extemporaneous exploration in the confines of a recording studio.
The result is a diverse and eclectic set of songs that by themselves are tight studies in interplanetary pop, but together – as mixed down by the same Andy Wallace who engineered Nirvana’s Nevermind as well as Phish’s The Story Of The Ghost – are triumphant movements in a consuming cosmic opus. The warm, ringing bass lines and ethereal howling on “Floating (Time Isn’t Working on My Side)” begin a non-stop progression of expansive sonic atmospherics and soaring vocal harmonies that swell together and rise to the one of many apexes on “Everything You See (Kids Count Hallelujahs)”, a song that displays almost every distorted, layered, acoustic/electric trick Portugal. The Man has honed to near-perfection in their 7 plus years of musical experimentation.
And whether its a coincidence or an intentionally autobiographical passage, the chorus of standout “Head Is Like A Flame (Cool With It)” seems to perfectly encapsulate the mantra behind the band’s development: “We all get strange / and we know it / and we’re cool with it / And we all get a little bit older / in this day and age / but we deal with it.” Portugal. The Man’s sound and sensibilities have evolved greatly since the days lead vocalist John Gourley and bassist Zachary Carouthers performed as a two-piece against drum machines and synth-loops in and around Wasilla; and the move to a major label may be the biggest signpost of their ascension yet.. But In The Mountain In The Cloud, while highly polished and concise, manages to feel as organic as anything PTM has put together, free of even a trace of anxiety or hesitation.