Portugal. The Man
Waiter: “You Vultures!”
ome time around 2002, I gave up on the Guns ‘N’ Roses fantasy and figured that every band that was thrust onto the scene did so with NYU or Brown diplomas in their gig bags. Whereas in hip-hop, one’s financial or cultural background is the only story on the debut album, it’s a lot less exciting to think about your favorite new band having day jobs or a trust fund.
But maybe there are more bands like Portugal. The Man than we think. Their story includes a homeless stint during the run-up to the recording of Waiter: “You Vultures!” in Alaska. So while it is certainly understandable why Portugal. The Man might embrace the opportunity to err on the side of coming on too strong, it certainly doesn’t make their debut album any more impressive.
“How the Leopard Got Its Spots” enthusiastically kicks Waiter off with the only real linear strong structure. The spindly riffs, keyboard bloops, and hi-hat heavy chorus recall just about any indie band that’s had the word “dance” used in their reviews, regardless of whether or not it deserves it. If not a “dance” album, Waiter: “You Vultures!” is the kind of album that probably makes a lot more sense live than on record since P.TM’s hooks are usually more rhythmic than they are melodic. “Marching With 6” punctuates its syncopated march with a Go! Team-esque chant ‘n’ clap and the subsequent track, “Elephants,” keeps the momentum going with an insistent strum and a repetitive chant of “who built the love?” in the chorus.
P.TM’s got a ton of energy, but anyone who is familiar with NBA broadcasts knows damn well that “energy guy” is a euphemism for someone who lacks any discernible skill. Clearly, more time was spent on punctuation than songwriting chops. Their press material would have you believe that they play a brew of funk, soul, and what have you, which would be about as accurate as Mike Jones saying his sound is a combination of Nick Drake and deep cuts from Can’s Future Days. During the unremarkable stretches of Waiter where the tempo slows down, P.TM’s sound is a dead ringer for, I kid you not, The Mars Volta’s “The Widow.” The tinkling acoustic passages, the castrati vocals, wandering melody and cryptic (read: meaningless) lyrics—it’s all there. Okay, so there’s no 64th-note masturbatory pyrotechnics, but there’s every bit of the tendency to make completely random tempo and time shifts, which is probably worse. “Marching With 6” and “Elephants” have the potential to be the point where the album starts making sense, but both are crippled by bad decision making; “Marching” pointlessly shifts gears and gets stuck in a herky-jerky cul-de-sac that’s grafted onto its center, while “Elephants” spends its final minute and a half gasping in fatigue instead of knowing when to quit. Worse, “Chicago” laughably implores the listener to “burn this motherfucker down” in between tidal waves of distortion. It’s the last memorable moment of Waiter, and there’s still four songs left.
Potential? Upside? Being from Alaska? Who’s to say why P.TM has become the recipient of a small wellspring of hype, but none of it is particularly evident from Waiter. While it’s quite unclear who P.TM want to be, right now they’re pretty much indistinguishable from the hundreds of opening acts toiling away in a college town near you, too scared to go math, but too proud to go pop.