Portugal. The Man seemingly came out of nowhere — well, Portland, actually, by way of Wasilla, Alaska — with a potent sound that evokes everyone while following no one. Frontman John Gourley and bassist Zachary Carothers are the only constants of a group who’ve drawn from psychedelia, hard rock, prog, glam, post-hardcore, Brit-pop, and several shades of indie since 2006 to join the big leagues with 2011′s major-label debut In the Mountain in the Cloud. Now teaming with super-producer Danger Mouse for their seventh proper album, they consolidate their eclecticism and heighten its impact.
Portugal. The Man dig drama: Any band that combines Robert Plant-ian yelps with Ziggy-esque combos of acoustic strumming and power chord thunder while shooting synth lasers toward the darkest side of the moon doesn’t shy away from theatricality. Danger Mouse’s cinematic sensibilities are a fine match, and they set the tone audaciously with opener “Plastic Soldiers”: The rhythm repeatedly drops and reenters as guitars, keys, dubby bass, strings and even horns similarly drift in and out of the mix.
As the title suggests, Evil Friends is concerned with clashes and contradictions. Gourley draws from gospel music on “Modern Jesus” and “Holy Roller (Hallelujah), but uses it to attack rote applications of religious beliefs. His lyrics depict struggles with apathy and alienation, and yet he wails with the passion of someone who unmistakably cares. He may take on the role of a “Creep in a T-Shirt” and cynically pine for prefab celebrity in “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” but he nevertheless yearns for the enlightenment implied by the album’s swelling, deeply emotional arrangements. Portugal. The Man remain a band unafraid to embrace their own contradictions, and on the fascinating Evil Friends, they’re all the better for it.