Music Reviews
Evil Friends

Portugal, the Man Evil Friends

(Atlantic) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Portugal, the Man have always walked the line between accessible and bewildering, mixing their ear-worm songs with a strong dash of weirdness, always keeping the listener from getting familiar. On their newest album, the Danger Mouse-produced Evil Friends, Portugal goes weirder yet even more accessible than ever before. You can practically see the fingerprints of the uber-producer on the polished sound and the focus on melodies, and that's a great thing.

Having dabbled with lightly spaced-out pop with Broken Bells, Mouse knows exactly what he's doing here, and it helps that Portugal has brought perhaps their strongest batch of songs to date. Starting off a little slowly with the dreamy Plastic Soldiers, the album sheds its thoughtful pace immediately afterwards on the slightly odd but hard-charging Creep in a T-Shirt and never slows down again. These are still Portugal songs, which means there's piano, reverb and plenty of lyrical oddities to go around ("I'm just a creep in a T-shirt, jeans/I don't f*cking care"). But these songs hum with an urgency that hasn't been there before, along with a little cynicism that fits the band well.

Songs like the stellar Modern Jesus flat out rock, and the band comes off as a tight, high-strung group that has become disillusioned with the way things have been going as of late. Seguing from a decidedly Danger Mouse-inspired synth opening, the band warns in the chorus, "Don't pray for us/We don't need no modern Jesus/To roll with us" before the synth and drums wash over the whole thing.

Evil Friends is filled with these types of rebellious yet slightly skewed songs, from the outrage of Hip Hop Kids to the resigned nature of Waves. However, when earlier Portugal, the Man albums would obscure good songs in a bevy of sound effects, here they have kept things relatively straightforward and accessible. This is extremely helpful for those of us who want to appreciate great songwriting without having to wade through psychedelic murk to get there. That isn't to say the band doesn't indulge in a little weirdness here and there. The goofy Purple Yellow Red and Blue goes full on for hazy effects and breezy vocals. It's actually a good change of pace from the almost grungy Someday Unbelievers that immediately precedes it.

Portugal, the Man has always had the ability to write some catchy tunes. However, on Evil Friends, they have sharpened their sound and brought a sterling batch of songs. It is by far their most focused and polished album, and Danger Mouse makes sure that everything is sonically smooth (even if a few feel almost like Broken Bells b-sides). If you haven't given Portugal a chance before, Evil Friends is a great place to jump in, while longtime fans should immediately take to it. This is an album you'll come back to time and time again.