Portugal. The Man are a clever lot; the major-label indie rockers are no strangers to well-conceived mischief, whether it's in videos, on-stage antics, or subtly hidden subversions in song lyrics. None of this will come across as blatantly as it does on Woodstock, the band's eighth studio album and first in four years. Woodstock was actually recorded twice; with producer Mike D and a lot of time, they cut enough material for a double album, then chucked it all, starting again with only fragments from the early sessions. The title was inspired by frontman John Gourley's dad's first-day ticket stub from the Woodstock festival, so much so that set opener "Number One" is electronically enhanced indie dance-psych that samples Richie Havens' "Freedom" from the Woodstock festival's soundtrack in the intro. Guest vocalist Son Little takes his tune and interweaves it with the band's contrasting melody and lyrics. On this set, Portugal. The Man continue to work with Mike D. but also with Danger Mouse and John Hill. They enlisted no less than nine engineers and more than 20 guest musicians and singers, and Woodstock sounds like it. It's an enormous-sounding, splashy album.
While the recording contains the band's hyperkinetic, sometimes frantic tapestry of sounds from neo-psych to glam and indie (in places), they've upped their "commercial" ante considerably as evidenced by single "Feel It Still," which has a punchy, fingerpopping rhythm worthy of both Pharrell Williams and Mark Ronson, complete with bumping brass, crisp snares, and Gourley's falsetto. The irony of such an overt pop single isn't lost on the band: They've printed T-shirts that read "I was into Portugal. The Man before they sold out." The pop approach is subversive but you'll need to get to the various song's lyrics to discover it. (No spoilers.) Check the nocturnal loop and groove of "Easy Tiger" that weaves traces of glam and multi-layered psych into its dubby, club-floor stomp. While "Keep On" contains ghost traces of the band's indie past, it's more influenced by alternative R&B and still rocks. The Pharcyde's Fatlip guests on the wonderful, snare/hi-hat/acid-tinged zaniness that is "Mr. Lonely," while the hip-hop drums and Hill's multi-layered, Brian Wilson-esque swooping vocal and backmasked Baroque psych production on "Tidal Wave" are infectious. Closer "Noise Pollution" offers an upfront vocal mix with Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Zoe Manville adding a prominent vocal chorus into the meld of psychedelic pop, hip-hop, and dancefloor tropes in a dense production by Mike D. It'll be interesting to observe how P.TM's longtime fans react to Woodstock, or if it will even matter. They'll certainly retain enough of their base to chart, but the bet is, given how accessible and attractive (and yes, derivative) their loopy brand of pop is, they'll attract an entirely new crop of fans to compensate. Pump your fist, be "a rebel just for kicks now," and most of all, dance like your life depended on it. As far as P.TM is concerned, it does. ~ Thom Jurek