When an album comes dressed up so grandiosely, taking the concept of cover art to new planes of existence, the music therein has to be good. Otherwise the whole ordeal becomes unbearably tragic. Do you recall the pop-up/lift-the-flap books from first grade? You'd pull back a flap to reveal a surprise underneath. The same goes for Portugal The Man's new release, The Satanic Satanist, but with a healthy dose of psychedelic imagery, swirling pinks and blues, and mind-blowing patterns. And rest assured, there is some fine music beneath all the colorful flaps that make up the CD cover.
Musically, Portugal is a band that continues to refine themselves every time around. With their last few albums, their psychedelic indie-rock adorned with falsetto vocals, Zeppelin-esque fills and progressive rhythms have evolved into sharper songwriting while still adroitly orbiting the same concept. You won't hear it all the first listen or even the first dozen listens. Tracks like the strong opener "People Say" set the stage for what is to come with catchy, assertive and thoroughly trippy rock. Strong drums and rhythm form the backbone for Satanist, seamlessly bridging into the mysteriously anthemic "Work All Day" or crafting a tabla-reminiscent introduction to "The Woods" or directing a driving torrent in "Guns and Dogs."
While not exactly telling a story in the traditional sense, Portugal forms a deliberately fractured narrative across the album littered with motifs of war, home and the mountains. "The Home," a raucous organ romp, features a manifesto of sorts for the album: "I don't know what the palace knows / but I don't run with sheep / the shepherd can't herd me. / My feet ever slow with the age that takes me / I'll slip out to the mountains where nobody knows me." While still a long way from cookie-cutter indie-pop that gluts the scene, The Satanic Satanist has a polished feel sure to dissuade the hipster factions. But, really, who wants a fan base of fickle hipsters anyway? Ultimately, Portugal knows how to rock and rock hard and promises some thrills.