Prolific is an adjective that seemed natural to apply to Alaskan group Portugal. The Man as they released a full-length album each year between 2006 and 2011. After it took two years to release 2013’s Evil Friends, and now four years for their eighth record, Woodstock, fans may well be asking whether Portugal. The Man are starting to run out of creative steam. It is really a judgement call as to whether or not the band’s decision to scrap their work for Gloomin + Doomin – which was to be album number 8 – indicates a creative malaise.
Woodstock opens with a nice little meta-reference to the famous 1969 festival from which the album takes its name, with opening track Number One sampling – and loosely riffing off – Freedom, the improvisational take on the old spiritual number, Motherless Child, by the festival’s opening act, Richie Havens. It’s a brave choice, and the track’s strong electronic beat induces the listener to bob along, but the song would have been strengthened by omitting the extended outro with its dramatic change of pace.
Easy Tiger has an alt-pop vibe and plays to the band’s experimental/psychedelic musical predilections. Rich Friend revolves around a slightly syncopated guitar riff, which is fun while also tense, backed by a solid drum rhythm, but the song’s energy disappointingly dissipates with the chorus. Featuring vocal performances from Zoe Manville, and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the noise-pop of Noise Pollution ends Woodstock on a pleasing, if confused, note.
Buried in the middle of Woodstock, is Keep On, the album’s standout track. Propelled onwards by indie- meets stoner-rock guitar riff, the natural drum performance for pseudo-release of the chorus transitions well from the mechanical delivery of the verses. Together with Rich Friend, Keep On illustrates that Portugal. The Man give their most pleasing performances when foregoing electronic and mechanical deliveries in favour of a more human approach. Woodstock fails to ignite the listener’s passions, or provide anything beyond a pleasant, though uneventful, distraction.