Portugal. The Man
n Church Mouth, the Alaskan indie trio Portugal. The Man have woken up. The dream-like 23-minute EP It’s Complicated Being a Wizard moved effortlessly from movement to movement, lulling listeners to sleep with a steady drum machine and sweetly cooed harmonies. Church Mouth keeps the harmonies, but trades the drum machine in for rattling percussion. Oh. And the guitars are back and kicking up quite a ruckus as well.
Such a ruckus, in fact, that you might be forgiven for listening to Church Mouth and confusing them with a group like Kings of Leon. “Bellies Are Full,” for instance, shudders under the weight of the barreling riffs, only to be completely torn apart near song’s end when the group settles into a Sabbath-worthy groove as the beat stomps and swings, marching inexorably towards oblivion. Too bad “Children,” its follow-up, uses the same tricks to diminishing effect.
Church Mouth is indeed a consistent album—and that’s a problem. After the abstract herk-jerk of Waiter: "You Vultures!" and flighty It’s Complicated EP, it was exciting to think about what the trio might come up with next. Fusion jazz? Math rock? Minimal techno? Nah, P.TM seem to be saying. We’re fine making an attempt at a record fit to be played on the other end of a “Get the Led Out” block.
The problem, of course, is that the trio just isn’t that great at it. While their rock songs rock well enough, there’s hardly enough to distinguish them in a field of accomplished revivalists. And while they get weird every so often, it’s certainly not often enough to engender things like “surprise” or “interest.” As soon as they apply a whirling choral effect to the end of each line on “Telling Tellers Tell Me,” they follow it up with a limp-wristed approximation of a Deep Purple chorus.
Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. P.TM saw plenty of criticism for their careless experiments on Waiter: "You Vultures!" and Church Mouth has the exact opposite problem. Bands like Menomena show an obvious way forward and P.TM would do well to take a cue: don’t bury the experiments, just stuff them into recognizable structures. After all, if P.TM had truly been listening to classic rock radio when they made this, they would’ve realized exactly how fucking weird Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Steve Miller, and T. Rex sound.
Reviewed by: Charles Merwin
Reviewed on: 2007-08-03