Portugal. The Man has spent a long time refining its brand of breezy, psychedelia-tinged alt-pop, producing at least one album a year from 2006 to 2011. Those albums are consistently fun, but are also frequently forgettable and lodged squarely in the band’s comfort zone. The group took an almost-two-year break between 2011’s In The Mountain In The Cloud (its first album with current label Atlantic Records) and Evil Friends, and the extra time pays off. Evil Friends is Portugal. The Man’s catchiest, most confident, and diverse record yet.
The key to Evil Friends’ success is the introduction of a new musical presence: all-star producer Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, who is famous both for his own music (most notably as part of Gnarls Barkley) and as a producing collaborator with acts like The Black Keys and Gorillaz. In particular, Evil Friends benefits from Danger Mouse’s work as one half of Broken Bells (Burton’s collaboration with The Shins’ James Mercer). Several of the songs on Evil Friends sound a bit too much like amped-up variations on the atmospheric music of Broken Bells’ self-titled debut, especially opener “Plastic Soldiers,” which practically announces itself as a Danger Mouse production. In fact, Danger Mouse sometimes seems like a more important contributor to Evil Friends’ sound than the band’s frontman, John Gourley.
But Evil Friends is more Black Keys than The Shins, opting for passion over the restrained melodies of Broken Bells. Where Broken Bells is pensive and slow, Evil Friends is hyper-caffeinated and energetic, and better for it. Tracks like upbeat, synth-laden anthem “Modern Jesus” (the album’s standout) and unrepentantly repetitive earworm “Sea Of Air” showcase not only a more exciting, but also a more versatile Portugal. The Man. That’s not to say the band has left behind its earlier sound. “Purple Yellow Red And Blue” successfully ramps the psychedelic elements of earlier Portugal. The Man efforts up to 11 but still goes down smooth. In the first line of that track, Gourley yelps, “All I want to do is live in ecstasy / I know what’s best for me,” and with Evil Friends, Portugal. The Man has made its best case yet for everyone to join in.