Monday, September 15, 2008

Review: Portugal. The Man - Censored Colors (* * *)

I should confess before I start this review that I became a fan of Portugal. The Man after their strangely awesome 2007 release Church Mouth. It was an unexpectedly great album produced by some very unusual songwriting methods. Apparently, the band showed up to the studio with a collection of jams and riffs and then pieced together songs while writing lyrics on the spot. Not exactly songwriting 101, but it worked; the Alaskan trio managed to craft some impressive tunes. Back after only a year (seems like this has happened quite a bit recently), the band return with another generous helping of psychedelic rock.

Portugal. The Man have toned the noise level down this time around, but the progressive nature of the music is even more extreme. Using a wider variety of instruments and vocal effects, the band float from one hazy tune to the next, exploring 70s psychedelia through a modern lens. Starting strong with the piano rock of "Lay Me Down," and the orchestra-heavy "Colors" makes for a good first impression, but halfway through the album the frustration sets in.

While Church Mouth was comprised generally of songs with recognizable structures, Censored Colors seems more like an explosion of ideas that never made their way to completion. I'm sure that was intentional, but it sometimes sounds like an unfinished art project. Some of my favorite moments are just that, moments. Like "Our Way," and "Sit Back And Dream," two brief tracks that sound great but go nowhere. "Intermission" is an unnecessary diversion amid diversions, and "Our Times" is just the second half of "Hard Times." Even some of the full length songs sound half-baked. Censored Colors seems to suffer not from content, but from execution, resulting in an uneven experience.

Fortunately, Portugal. The Man have enough talent to make the album at least interesting. The quality of the sound and the wealth of fascinating ideas might just distract you from the senselessness of it all. The a capella harmony on "All Mine" and the quaint folk of "Created" are a couple of reasons to give the album another shot, and I imagine everyone will find gems here if they stick around long enough to dig them up. It's ambitious and pretentious, exciting and frustrating, and unlike anything you'll hear all year.

Favorite Tracks: "Lay Me Down," "Colors," "Created"

Listen to the album at