Portugal. The Man - American Ghetto

Album cover
Experimental, Indie
Equal Vision Records
Portugal. The Man
American Ghetto
Portugal. The Man - American Ghetto Review rating:
4
User rating:
Average: 3.5 (2 votes)

"Ghetto: /ˈgɛtoʊ/ [get-oh] –noun, plural. 1. a section of a city, esp. a thickly populated slum area, inhabited predominantly by members of an ethnic or other minority group, often as a result of social or economic restrictions, pressures, or hardships." -Dictionary.com.

By titling their fifth album American Ghetto, Portugal. The Man (period always included) are not making a statement about the condition of America, despite your initial (and justified) reaction. No, the Alaska/Oregon indie rock outfit aren't painting a portrait of the politics of this country. Rather, they are sketching the surface of those whom American marginalizes, those who are not heard - no, not the destitute...no, not the minorities...no, not the conservatives. I'm talking about the lower middle-class, those who live relatively comfortably compared to much of the world but are ignored because of America's focus on the bipolarity of monetary means.

Thus, the American ghetto might be the dilapidated dredges of modern suburbia. Not the suburbia you see in movies, or the quietly fucked-up suburbia of the businessmen and the mildly educated, but the suburbia of those who are trapped by their addictions. Their addictions to lethargy ("The Dead Dog"), dead-end jobs ("60 Years"), and designer drugs ("The Pushers Party"); their addiction to a lifestyle that is as easy and capricious as it is fruitless and vapid. Their social, economic, and personal restrictions are self-inflicted, much moreso than those on welfare or those struggling to make a viable life for themselves.

There is a certain yearning, a certain hopeless hunger evident throughout American Ghetto. "1000 Years" reverses the natural order of life in its lyrics: "first you stand, then you crawl, then you sleep to be reborn," John Baldwin Gourley sings bemoaningly, in an apathetic yet emotional tone. Then, on "All My People," distorted vocals echo a guitar riff to the note, as a sarcastically optimistic voice sings "I've got my hands on it, I've gotta find a way out." Those in the American ghetto have the capability to break out of their molds...but they can't find a way to do it.

Rebellion also accumulates, whether it concerns the involvement of the rich and the government ("we don't need you to do what we do") or the path that seems easiest to many in the American ghetto: the military ("they shipped out all the boys, then they shipped some more," "When the War Ends"). Most heartbreaking is the story of those who "grow into nothing," those who "no one wants," described in the song "Fantastic Pace." Lyrically, the songs are vague enough to be left open for interpretation, but concrete enough to communicate the American ghetto.

Musically, the album utilizes less hooks than its 2009 predecessor, The Satanic Satanist, yet experiments less than Censored Colors. Nearly every review of American Ghetto discusses its relation to Portugal. The Man's past albums in detail, and the aggregate opinion seems to be that the 2010 release is an amalgamation of PTM's last four albums. While that may be true, the main problem with American Ghetto is that it simply isn't The Satanic Satanist. The tracks don't flow as naturally, the songs feel less complete (almost like they're mastered demos?), and the album doesn't take you on an adventure in the same way that Satanist does.

This is not to say that the newest Portugal. The Man release is of poor quality. It isn't. In fact, it'll probably make my Top 25 albums of the year - though only barely. And I'd be willing to bet that you will feel the same way. Yes, it's a very solid release from one of the most underappreciated (and best) indie rock bands out there, but no, it is not their best album, nor is it as good as it could be. The band communicates the American ghetto effectively, but not superbly. Perhaps they should've taken slightly more than 8 months to put it together since their last release.

1. The Dead Dog
2. Break
3. 60 Years
4. All My People
5. 1000 Years
6. Fantastic Pace
7. The Pushers Party
8. Do What We Do
9. Just A Fool
10. Some Men
11. When The War Ends

Portugal. The Man is an experimental indie rock four-piece centered on frontman John Baldwin Gourley's abstract musical approach and corresponding upbringing. He was raised in a sort of technological isolation: his log cabin home in the winter wasteland of the fringes of Wasilla, Alaska was powered by a generator and had no telephone. Both of his parents helped completely immerse him in the unique lifestyle that comes with a land of seasonal darkness and perpetual cold with their jobs as dog sled mushers. ... read more

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Batman
Batman says... "Taking Back Sunday composes their music first, then the lyrics."

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