Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
Record Store Day (RSD) has become an audiophile’s Christmas since its inception in 2008, celebrating independently owned record stores with exclusive titles and limited-edition releases from everyone from The Beatles to Arcade Fire.
Billed as a psychedelic indie-rock band, I think Portugal. The Man is kind of neither.
“In The Mountain In The Cloud” doesn’t sound much like a band treading new sonic ground, or even experimenting with the recontextualizing of others before them, but more on that later. Also, they ditched the small label, Equal Vision Records, for Atlantic Records in April of last year. I wonder if producer John Hill’s (who has a handful of Shakira, Theophilus London and Christina Aguilera tracks to his credit) assistance with the record was the band’s choice or Warner Bros’.
Neither is the band particularly psychedelic. There isn’t anything especially alluring or freaky about this, their sixth studio album, which is aggravatingly simple and watered-down for an act that’s previously aimed at lofty conceptual goals in its style. It’s the opposite of damaged psych (Ariel Pink, for instance), but also fails in the way of more lyrically challenging sub-genres, like psych-folk (Jackie O Motherfucker) and the orchestral rich pastoral (Fleet Foxes). Heck, they don’t even really jam on this record, which, as I discovered back in the spring, is something they’re pretty good at.
Such incongruence with established sounds, concepts and styles is only rarely an indicator of originality, and “In the Mountain in the Cloud” just isn’t one of those albums. My largest complaint about the record is that the band too often sounds like imitators, not innovators, and of My Morning Jacket at that (see the chorus of “Wordless Chorus” if you’re not in on this little joke). Where MMJ are burlier, more straightforward-rocking and write compelling lyrics, P.TM plays about too much with poorly recorded orchestral stuff. Traditional string arrangements are scattered about this record like dead flowers. I should also add that Jim James’ falsetto, while certainly not authoritative, kicks P.TM singer John Gourley’s in the balls, and not in a way that’s helpful.
Opener “So American” is the sonic equivalent of a David Bowie-themed, color-by-numbers drawing book, right down to the handclaps, tempo and charming, English-styled vocals. “You Carried Us (Share with Me the Sun)” progresses like an MGMT track, one with stale synths and boring lyrics. And “Everything You See (Kids Count Hallelujahs)” actually contains the phrase “the kids are just fine.” Snooze.
For a brief moment midway through its six minutes and 21 seconds, I thought (OK, hoped) closer “Sleep Forever” steadily morphed into Macy Gray’s iconic single “I Try,” from which P.TM’s almost completely rips a violin melody, and for which I have no qualms admitting my faithful love.
I feel like I’ve complained enough, so at this point I think I’m going to finish this review by listening to “I Try” a few times.