Plenty of reasons to smile
Packing plenty of excitement and quirkiness into their dazzling mix of rock, pop, psychedelia, and electronica, Portugal. The Man’s work is as imaginative and catchy as it is immaculate and daring. Overall, Evil Friends is an extremely fun and engrossing record. It’s fair to say that Portugal. The Man is among the most prolific outfits around today, as they’ve essentially released a new album every year since their 2006 debut, Waiter: “You Vultures!” With famed producer Danger Mouse behind the wheel, Evil Friends finds the group continuing to venture into programmed territory (including beats and colorful sound effects), which gives the music a celebratory vibe. Of course, the production would be worthless if there weren’t any hooks or intriguing arrangements, but that’s definitely not an issue since this album is full of them.
Opener “Plastic Soldiers” is probably the most multifaceted creation here, as it contains a few distinct parts. It begins with beautiful melancholy—like a lost Mew piece—before transitioning into an upbeat, folksy number full of poppy elegance and intriguing atmosphere. It concludes as a prophetic commentary with reflective piano chords and triumphant horns. It’s incredible. In contrast is “Creep in a T-shirt”, a free-spirited and joyous affair that oozes eccentricity as it recalls the uniqueness of Super Furry Animals and Gorillaz. There’s also the title track, a quick rocker with pleasant harmonies.
Without a doubt, the most addictive selection here is “Modern Jesus”. Its hypnotic central synthesizer riff is matched by guitar arpeggios, programmed percussion, ingenious sound effects, and warm vocals that invite sing-a-longs.It’s an instant classic. “Atomic Man” is another catchy aggressor that blends computerized, vintage, and modern elements well, while “Sea of Air” is somber and sparse at the start and then becomes more tranquil and idealistic. The fact that it’s so different from its predecessor makes it remarkable; in fact, it shares the same sense of optimism as Of Monsters and Men’s exceptional My Head Is an Animal.
“Waves” continues the discontented vibe, and it’s arguably the best example of it on Evil Friends. A pained ballad, the song features lovely interplay between guitar and piano, as well gripping melodies and an impressive buildup. Afterward, “Holy Roller (Hallelujah)” comes in like a bat out of hell, channeling hip-hop attitude and carefree energy with its distorted vocals and wild tempo changes. Later on, “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” echoes glam rock extravagance, and closer “Smile” is bombastic and varied as it reprises brilliantly elements of “Plastic Soldiers,” sending listeners off with a thoughtful yet bold statement.
Portugal. The Man have created something special with Evil Friends. The core songwriting and performances are top notch, and Danger Mouse’s input adds a plethora of valuable modifications and ideas. Despite the aforementioned comparisons, I’ve never heard anything quite like this, which, in addition to the band’s inventive compositional approach and delivery, is reason enough for me to recommend it. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up ASAP.