Monday, November 5, 2007

Portugal. The Man :: Church Mouth

Artist :: Portugal. The Man
Album :: Church Mouth
Label :: Fearless

In a word :: Infectious

Play this cut first :: Bellies are Full

There has been much buzz swirling around Portugal. The Man lately. And rightly so. They are the rare breed of band that, like a hive, creates its own buzz. The type of band that, as you listen to the CD, you think, "I bet these guys kick all kinds of ass on stage."

PTM draws comparisons to Led Zepplin, but not for the same reasons every other Zep clone does. Nope, you are not going to find the thunderous Bonzoid beats. No pulling Pages from Jimmy's big book of riffs. Instead, PTM accentuates those other elements: the momentum in John Paul Jones bassline and the legato melodic tendencies of Robert Plant.

Further, there is the same disregard for traditional song structures. At times, these cuts meander like a sonic explorer pushing further into the lo-fi wash to pull out flashes of melody and the occasional boot-stomping, beer swilling, Delta-blues groove. Just when you think the whole show is becoming a lesson in improvisation, the sweet balance of blues-flavored familiarity returns.

For all of this, they still draw comparisons to The White Stripes. Sure, they may share similar influences, and PTM frontman, John Baldwin Gourley, has a similar charismatic quality to Jack White. That, however, is where the similarities rightfully end. PTM's rhythm section has a fluidity that Meg White's ham-fisted drumming can't even approach, nor will it likely ever.

This elevated level of musicianship offers PTM a palette of options. In all honesty, the only other band that really operates on this level at the moment is The Mars Volta.

Now Playing :: Bellies are Full

And for all that is unpredictable about Church Mouth, the CD as a whole has a collective sense of movement, solidifying into a throbbing, breathing mass about three quarters of the way through. By the time we hit cuts like "Bellies Are Full" and "Children", the sound congeals, almost like entropy before fading into the final serene sounds of "Sun Brother (excerpt)".

The Bottom Line :: Church Mouth s built upon the willingness to take chances; to let tape roll; to be imperfect if it means being interesting. It's the album where the musician meets the performer. And it's an extension of the rock bands that made the genre credible and jazz musicians who cared just as much about pushing boundaries as giving you hooks you could hum for years.

Best Cuts :: Bellies Are Full, The Bottom, Church Mouth, Sugar Cinnamon

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