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Everything You Need To Know About Portugal. The Man’s New Album.
Well, we’re two full months into 2017 and the world continues to burn like an avalanche of flaming biohazard material sliding down a mountain of used needles into a canyon full of rat feces. But hey, it’s not all bad: Portugal. The Man has a new album coming out called Woodstock.
PTM’s last album came out over three years ago—a long gap for a band who’ve dropped roughly an album a year since 2006. And in true, prolific band fashion, they’ve spent almost every minute since 2013 working on an album called Gloomin + Doomin. They created a shit-ton of individual songs, but as a whole, none of them hung together in a way that felt right. Then John Gourley, PTM’s lead singer, made a trip home to Wasilla, Alaska, (Home of Portugal. The Man’s biggest fan, Sarah Palin) and two things happened that completely changed the album’s trajectory.
First, John got some parental tough love from his old man, who called John on the proverbial carpet or dogsled or whatever you put people on when you want to yell at them in Alaska. “What’s taking so long to finish the album?” John’s dad said. “Isn’t that what bands do? Write songs and then put them out?” Like fathers and unlicensed therapists tend to do, John’s dad cut him deep. The whole thing started John thinking about why the band seemed to be stuck on a musical elliptical machine from hell and, more importantly, about how to get off of it.
Second, fate stuck its wiener in John’s ear again when he found his dad’s ticket stub from the original 1969 Woodstock music festival. It seems like a small thing, but talking to his dad about Woodstock ’69 knocked something loose in John’s head. He realized that, in the same tradition of bands from that era, Portugal. The Man needed to speak out about the world crumbling around them. With these two ideas converging, the band made a seemingly bat-shit-crazy decision: they took all of the work they had done for the three years prior and they threw it out.
It wasn’t easy and there was the constant threat that the band's record label might have them killed, but the totally insane decision paid off. With new, full-on, musical boners, the band went back to the studio—working with John Hill (In The Mountain In The Cloud), Danger Mouse (Evil Friends), Mike D (Everything Cool), and longtime collaborator Casey Bates (The one consistent producer since the first record). In this new-found creative territory, the album that became Woodstock rolled out naturally from there.
Remember that mountain of burning needles we were talking about? Good. Because Woodstock is an album (including the new single “Feel It Still”) that—with optimism and heart—points at the giant pile and says, “Hey, this pile is fucked up!” And if you think that pile is fucked up too, you owe it to yourself—hell, to all of us—to get out there and do something about it.
Give Twin Peaks an inch and they’ll take a stretch of the road. Having careened across America and beyond, sharing their staggering energy, the band made their third album the best way they know how: by themselves. The same group that produced the scuzzy squalor of their debut Sunken, had legions of fans screaming along to their anthemic sophomore effort, Wild Onion, now swings and serenades with Down In Heaven (released via Grand Jury on May 13, 2016).
Co-produced by the band and longtime collaborator R. Andrew Humphrey, and mixed by new confidant John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth), the record is by turns raw, polished and wise beyond its years. The diverse new songs beg the listener to sway slowly, bang their head wildly and question what they were doing wasting emotional time on anything less. It is a marked, and some may say mature, development for a band that doesn’t know how to play it safe. They aren’t here to tell you what youth is like or what being a little older now means, though; they want to join you in a conversation about why we hurt, love and tug at each other.
While Twin Peaks is a bit older, they’re not necessarily calmer; their restlessness endures. Born of Chicago’s league-leading DIY scene and with several of them remaining friends since elementary school, Cadien Lake James, Clay Frankel, Connor Brodner, Jack Dolan, and most recent addition Colin Croom share an enthusiasm, authenticity and passion their audiences have found contagious. In the three years since dropping out of college to support their debut album “Sunken,” the band has covered a lot of ground. They’ve played to ever-increasing crowds, bigger and rowdier each time they come barreling into a city; they were anointed “Best New Band” by NME and countless other blogs, and they have performed for (and partied with) more than hospitable masses at festivals in the states and Europe, including Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, Reading & Leeds, and Roskilde. In between all this action, the group set up camp in the summer of 2015 amidst the solitude of a murky lake in Western Massachusetts, where they could experiment and record on their own terms in the warm living room of a good friend’s house.
Recording on reel-to-reel with the band learning studio tricks on the fly, Twin Peaks set out to a make an LP that reflects how far they’ve come and how much of life is left, trusting themselves to make a record they’d want to hear. James explains, “I’ve been particularly drawn to records that have a more personal feel, not necessarily lyrically, but in sonic aesthetic, like The Kinks' Village Green Society, Beatles' White Album, and Rolling Stones' Beggar’s Banquet. We wanted to make a record that employed the restraints of our favorite artists from yesteryear. It was about trying to simplify and hone in on the things that are important to our music and ethos.” In considering the development of the band’s sound from Sunken to Wild Onion and now to Down In Heaven, Frankel adds, “The bands we admire are the ones who change drastically over the course of their span, like The Velvet Underground, where no two records of theirs sound the same.”
Whether sneering or pleading, aggressive or impatient, the thirteen tracks of Down In Heaven are a continuation of the band’s path and an eschewing of previous comparisons. It is a record all about feel: heartbreak, forgiveness, anger, jubilation, reinvention, growth. Album opener “Walk To The One You Love,” written by James about letting someone close to you go is immediately followed by Frankel’s song “Wanted You,” with lyrics about not getting the one that you yearn for. With “Stain,” perhaps the biggest departure for the band on the record, Frankel says, “I didn’t want another love song, so after a while I got what it is, how you suffer for your art but you put up with it because you don’t wanna do anything else. It’s a song about the love of music.” Even though four of the five members contribute lyrics, there are obvious connections both thematically and musically across the record and the band’s voice rises unified.
Down In Heaven will bring old fans and new Twin Peaks most complex record to date, encompassing elements only teased on their previous efforts. Frankel says, “I don’t know yet what kind of band we are, since we keep changing with every year. I guess we are a band unafraid of new influences and changes.” Put simply, Down In Heaven makes it increasingly hard to call their sound “classic.” It’s rock new and old, it’s a little bit of country, it’s a whole lot of punk attitude, and it’s something to get excited about. Twin Peaks is here to stay, and they aren’t going to get pinned down.