Plumbiferous Media

In the Mountain, In the Cloud – Portugal. The Man

Jul 17th 2011
One Comment
In the Mountain, In the Cloud - Portugal. The ManPortugal. The Man
In the Mountain, In the Cloud
Score: 46

Portland group Portugal. The Man (originally from Wasilla, Alaska) has been producing its own rather unique brand of psych rock since 2004, and in that time they’ve released seven LPs. Their newest, In The Mountain, In The Cloud, coming out on Tuesday, certainly carries on that tradition of uniqueness. Unfortunately, it doesn’t manage to do so in a particularly organized manner, leaving In The Mountain, In The Cloud more of a mess than a well-constructed whole.

Portugal. The Man populates In the Mountain, In the Cloud with a dense array of sounds that shift from almost resolved harmonies to purposeful discord in ways that are often not apparent without close inspection. This variety of discord, accompanied and amplified by imperfectly trained vocals and waves of synthetic manipulation characterizes the album above all else. It’s certainly unique, and often interesting. These ebbs and flows, not of volume but of harmonic quality, should provide the album with a forceful base and theme. Unfortunately, they fall short in this regard.

As a whole, In the Mountain, In the Cloud sounds somewhat like an art-rock album without any of the art. It could very well be possible that Portugal. The Man had a clear purpose and plan for each track while composing the album, but it does little to show through. While it’s possible to excuse the first few tracks for introducing the listener to the sound and themes of the album, that excuse quickly falls apart when the rest of the tracks follow up with little to no meaningful content. In the Mountain, In the Cloud has plenty of notes, most of which come together relatively nicely, but none of them are really arranged into songs or pieces, rather than simply a set of tracks.

On the other hand, it’s clear from In The Mountain, In The Cloud, that frontman John Gourley knows what he’s doing when it comes to vocals. Gourley’s voice is an undeniable source of energy that without a doubt goes further than any other element of the album’s sound towards giving In The Mountain, In The Cloud direction. Unfortunately, however perfectly the carefully orchestrated harmonies work on a track like “All Your Light (Times Like These),” the same systematic failure to find purpose plagues the music – and so however much the vocals seem to have the power to cure In The Mountain, In The Cloud‘s ills, that never quite happens. Instead, it just seems a pity that Gourley’s voice is lost in the directionless muddle the album falls into.

Part of the vocals’ failure to rescue the album is thanks to the lyrics which, while occasionally interesting, when lines like “I’m just the shadow of a bigger man” try to evoke something greater than what the album ever manages, suffer from the same lack of direction as much of the rest of the album. Occasionally heavy repetition, especially of the least interesting lines, fails to push the album anywhere but into a lull, and when new, interesting lines come up, it’s generally not for long enough to make much of a difference.

In the Mountain in the Cloud is technically satisfying, at least to a degree, but by no means a masterful album. The lack of direction dictates an amateurish sound, and while Portugal. The Man may have control over each instrument and voice, it fails to control the music. Worse, In the Mountain in the Cloud also fails to demonstrate that Portugal. The Man has the capability to take its tracks in any sort of direction. Greater care and more planning may yield a more satisfactory sequel, but we are certainly not counting on it.

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One Response

  1. Hmm says:

    Ehhh, I wish this review was focused more on aspects that weren’t almost specifically subjective. An inability to fully understand or ‘like’ the lyrics is poor enough reasoning to base an entire review around. I enjoyed the album, I’m looking for a more polished opinion than this, though.

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