Noticed that two of the greatest Portugal the Man albums haven’t been reviewed and seeing as how they both see PTM in a bit of a dark sounding phase, I think a double review is in order. Hopefully this’ll create some intrigue so that people will go see their upcoming performance at Hang-Out Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama and on the rest of their tour. They’ll be in Baltimore on June 8th and I’m currently exhausting efforts to score an interview. It’s just about time for a new album and I’d love to get the scoop!
Anyway, back to the ol’ chiseling stone. Let’s tackle these in chronological order:
Every avid Portugal the Man fan has undoubtedly gone through their Church Mouth phase, myself included. While each album they release sees them change and evolve in ways that make a former album almost incomparable to the “latest and greatest,” there is no use in denying the staying power of Church Mouth.
The album starts off with the self-titled track and gets the gritty, dirty feeling guitar out in the open without much hesitation. This feeling is maintained through the next three tracks, but in my opinion, the album truly starts to pick up at the fourth track, “My Mind.” Now, by ‘pick up,’ I’m not talking about the album getting super fast paced or posi or hardcore. Nothing like that, merely just that by the fourth track, Portugal starts really getting into the meat of this album. Everything slows down a bit and creates some room for ambience, well led and guided by the insatiably high, almost creepy voice of John Gourley. Church Mouth sees Gourley and his backing talent flourish with harmonies that you simply just don’t hear that often. I’ve never heard a voice such as Gourley’s in Church Mouth and doubt I ever will. Each groovy lick comes right out of the picking hand of Pentatonic scales and blues progression. By the end of the album, most notably “Sleeping Sleepers Sleep,” PTM moves into almost complete ambient obscurity, exhausting all the soul they had left in that recording booth. Overall, Portugal the Man truly perfected what blues can become in this new era with Church Mouth.
One of Portugal the Man’s crowning achievements, Church Mouth is an album that will remain prevalent in their catalogue for a long time to come. Church Mouth is probably the album that I would put on if I wanted to introduce someone to Portugal the Man for the first time as it does well to display, for the most part, what Portugal the Man is all about as a band: grit, blues, dirt, soul, with a pinch of nonsensical lyric!
Whatever darkness had begun to grow within the group truly flourished after Church Mouth’s release and became embodied by it’s 2008 follow-up, Censored Colors.
Censored Colors is a bit longer than it’s predecessor, by 3 tracks, and it couldn’t have possibly been a better album to make their longest. Again, as I mentioned in my review of Church Mouth, every Portugal the Man album is the best at the time of it’s release, but due to the fact that they simply keep changing and evolving, I can not attest anymore as to whether or not an album is their best since they really are all wonderful. Censored Colors, however, is by far their darkest album.
Censored Colors favors a great reduction in tempo and is accompanied by the same great vocal talent. The harmonies of CC are a bit lower, a bit more gloomy, and just down right scary at some points (see “Out and In and In and Out” and “Intermission”). All of this is balanced perfectly into an aurally pleasing and quite relaxing 53 minutes of Portugal the Man greatness. Censored Colors also favors a bit more of a clean sound, primarily in the guitar/keyboard work. While of course, there is still the presence of dirt behind the ears of Gourley’s tuning keys, most of the album features clean and entrancing guitar. Most of the keyboard work sounds reminiscent of the organ playing at a baseball game and suits Portugal well.
Censored Colors is another great album by Portugal the Man and is a must have for any fan of good music. The only drawback (for first time listeners) is simply the length of the album. Censored Colors is more an album that can be thoroughly appreciated by an avid Portugal the Man fan but first time listeners of Portugal the Man may feel a little unnerved at first. Just give it a few more listens though, and it’s guaranteed to stick with you.
Both of these albums are going into the Vault. Go buy them and find out what all the hype is about!