More often than not, when Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton produces a record, his involvement turns out to be a blessing. His work with James Mercer in Broken Bells imparted an appealing revivalist soul to the relatively muted Shins frontman. With the Black Keys, the duo’s blues rock was a perfect match for Burton’s classic-pop sensitivity.
Yet, on parts of Portugal The Man’s latest record, Evil Friends, the band’s natural psych-rock inclinations just don’t mesh with Burton’s production style. Which is not to dismiss John Gourley and his bandmates for their best-manicured work to date. The band has no reservations about producing purebred pop, and the record’s power chords and arena-rock feel testify to that.
But previous albums and killer live shows have shown Portugal The Man to be much more individualistic than most of Evil Friends would
indicate. Opener “Plastic Soldiers” is a multifaceted gem, starting
with acoustic guitars and soft synths before careening into a
psychedelic collage of string samples, whammy-bar guitar and a buzzing,
insectlike keyboard riff. The beautiful, Peter Gabriel-esque “Sea of
Air” demonstrates Gourley’s strong songwriting abilities. But too many
songs feel like a tug of war between Burton’s dial-turning and the
Portland band’s free-range musical persona—a struggle everyone ends up
HEAR IT: Evil Friends is out Tuesday, June 4, on Atlantic Records.