The collaboration between Portugal. The Man (band) and Danger Mouse (producer) on the Alaska group’s eighth full-length album was one of those things that made perfect sense as soon as it was announced. P.TM frontman John Gourley and company have always been open to experimentation, always had the musical chops and always exhibited a Danger Mouse-ian undercurrent of gloom, but in recent years they’ve has struggled to find an edge. So who better to refine and congeal the strengths of a stylistically diverse group such as Portugal. The Man than a genius producer who has worked with everyone from Cee-Lo to MF Doom to James Mercer to The Black Keys?
Part of what makes the Danger Mouse/P.TM collaboration work is that Gourley’s natural progression as a songwriter plays right into Danger Mouse’s own strengths. Beginning with 2009’s The Satanic Satanist, Portugal. The Man’s music has skewed toward nebulous, life-affirming proclaimations, evoking things like the sun and giving off a general sense of positivity. There’s nothing wrong with this, but there wasn’t a great deal that differentiated The Satanic Satanist, 2010’s American Ghetto and 2011’s In the Mountain in the Cloud, especially considering 2008’s ominous and hard rocking Censored Colors. On Evil Friends, the first album the band has taken an extra year to make, the songs are markedly darker, more sinister and more fun than anything we’ve heard from the band perviously.
Danger Mouse, of course, is known for casting a gloomy, mysterious pall over the artists he works with. Most notable to Portugal. The Man is what he did to The Black Keys on the eerie, ghostly Attack & Release, the first album he produced for the blues duo and one which marked a vast departure from the rough-around-the-edges garage rock fans had come to expect from the band. On Evil Friends, the effect is similar but even more focused and more concentrated. The result is an album that is chock full of stand-out tracks. The first two singles—”Evil Friends” and “Purple Yellow Red and Blue”—are pulsing, driving hits that will undoubtedly be the centerpiece of the band’s new live show, and others like “Atomic Man,” “Creep in a T-Shirt” and “Hip Hop Kids” showcase the band’s strengths with similar force. Portugal. The Man has always had a tender side—and how couldn’t they with Gourley’s angelic voice—and for that there are songs like the contemplative “Waves” and the exultant closing track “Smile.” Danger Mouse’s fingerprints are all over all of these songs, and it’s easy to see parallels with some of his other projects, but in many ways Evil Friends is the most quintessentially Portugal. The Man album the band has released. It’s also undoubtedly their best.