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A treasure from the land of Palin

Portugal The Man: Censored Colors

Desc:CD REVIEW: ARTIST: Portugal the Man
Label:Equal Vision

Belying their frigid Alaskan provenance, ascendant band Portugal the Man has steadily stoked a hot buzz, and the self-financed Censored Colors should kick it up to a roaring new level. Though still relative newcomers, they’ve already established a fierce commitment to breaking new ground, and their palette here remains in an energized state of flux. Beyond a shared affinity for lushness and texture, there is little carryover from the last album, Church Mouth, to this.

Their sound continues to be a deeply blended affair, but the previous hard rock and Mars Volta influences have yielded to soul. It’s a more sedate drift, but the greater emphasis on melody makes this a far more seductive record, and the spacious orchestration gives the vocal melodies more room to stretch their wings. It’s precisely this lithe new aspect that keeps their sound thick, heavy even, but never lumbering. The result is a baroque slab of psychedelic, proggy soul with expansiveness evocative of the Beatles.

The drama swoons in the strings and huge exhaling vocals of “Lay Me Back Down” and the yearning immensity of “Colors,” but the album’s finest moment is its simplest. The arresting lullaby “Salt” is given flight by a floating ’60s soul falsetto accompanied by little other than a modest acoustic guitar. The first “side” (tracks one through six) is single tracks, while the rest is a long suite of compositions strung together seamlessly, and that’s where the ambition becomes bombast: The stitchwork of those songs doesn’t have an evident point.

Still, Censored Colors is a gorgeous album. It sprawls but remains unfailingly engrossing. It’s yet another confident assertion of their artistic inquisitiveness and further defines Portugal the Man as a bold band completely uninterested in the safety of stasis. At last, something positive comes out of Wasilla.
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