Wow, so this is embarrassing. I’ve had Waiter: “You Vultures!” the debut album from Portugal. The Man, in my stereo for more than a month, probably close to a hundred spins, and I just realized the lead singer isn’t a woman. This whole time I had been envisioning some Andrea Zollo type strutting around a stage in fishnets and low-cut blouses. But nope. John Gourley — definitely a dude. Awkward. Falsetto will do that to you. Thank Moses for press releases and Internet bios. Just give me a moment to read this thing. … Okay, all set.
For the uninformed (read: me ten minutes ago), Portugal. The Man is an all-male four-piece from Wasilla, Alaska that formed in the wake of the emo-rific Anatomy of a Ghost. And in case you missed the memo, vocalist John Gourley sings like a woman. Contained on the band’s debut is the type of angular, slash-and-stomp, squeal-’til-you’re-hoarse, this-one’s-going-to-get-that-booty-shakin’, don’t-stop-the rock that you’d expect from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, not the land of Dr. Joel Fleischman (but what do we really expect from Alaskan indie rock?). So it makes sense that the band has creative ties to Portland, Oregon, birthplace of drummer Jason Sechrist.
The linchpin moment hits with opener “How the Leopard Got Its Spots,” which begins with a simple guitar riff that cascades into one of the year’s most sonically intense rock collages. From there on out, Waiter: “You Vultures!” tosses forth an insane variety of head-turning styles that go way beyond your typical indie record by dipping into hard-core slam-dance anthems (“Chicago”), Mars Volta rip-offs (“Stables & Chairs“), Blonde Redhead-style ballads (“AKA M80 The Wolf“) and subtly glitchy electro-jams (“Tommy“).
Not to discredit the rest of the band, but if there’s anything that seals the deal on Portugal. The Man’s potential, it’s the interplay of Sechrist and bassist Zachary Carothers. I haven’t been shocked by bass recorded this epic or a rhythm section tracked so tightly since my first few spins of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm. From the opening moments to the pummeling bits on “Marching With 6,” these kids know not only hot to groove but also to explode out of a groove while never losing control of the song.
So there you have it — possibly the year’s first true musical surprise. And out of Alaska. Who would have thunk it?
Fearless Records Web site