Phoenix – [Album]

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

People have a love affair with foreign bands. There’s something exotic and mysterious about property that we don’t live in and the people that come from there with musical prowess. We can’t help but like the Irish swagger of U2, the heartfelt outpouring of the Scots of Snow Patrol. Apparently Celine Dion is very big overseas (in some cases there’s no accounting for taste, what can we say). The British Invasion will forever earmark America’s obsession with British rock with namesakes like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to today’s Fratellis. And the Ramones…okay, they’re faux British, but they’re still very cool. And adding to that lil’ black book of overseas audible romantic trysts is Phoenix, hailing from France and bringing their fourth studio album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, in lieu of flowers.

The band—consisting of beaus Thomas Mars, Deck D'Arcy, Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz—are bringing a chocolaty sweet album with a chewy center of fun distorted guitars, peppy drumwork and a blend of shoegazer/ambient mixed with alternative rock. Tasty. As a whole this album feels very much like a summertime love album—light and untainted, hopeful with moments of letdowns like rainy days. But don’t feel the monotony just yet. There’s enough differentiation going on you’ll consider this more than a one-time-listen summer fling.

The album starts of with “Lisztomania,” a good example of the sound in the rest of the album. It has a certain bubblegum sugary beat bop to begin with, mixed with enough grungy guitar to keep listeners not in the Hanna Montana fan club interested. It’s light and simple, not lots of layering, but singer Mars has a very textured voice. Lyrics trip around the scale, and moments of guitar work really add a certain clarity to the song. This is the soundtrack to driving at midnight in abandoned and warmly lit streets.

We’ll skip “1901” since it’s available for download now (as in, Right Now. Use your Google machine )[or at the bottom of this page – ed.] and you probably already know what you think about it. But next is “Fences,” which is slows things down, almost sounds like disco boogie. You literally could roller disco to this song. Mars’ vocals, which to this point have had a certain quality of sandpaper, arch up and become smoother, suave; Bee-Gee like, really. This is a vintage sounding song that really sticks out from the rest of the album and may remind you of that old flame MGMT. If this doesn’t have you shaking your shoulders and remembering how to do the Hustle, nothing will.

Then “Love Like a Sunset” comes on and rips you out of nostalgia, beginning with about six minutes of instrumentals for a seven-and-a-half-minute song. But this track is like an audio play. It opens with a little keyboard electronica plinking and heavy distorted guitars—clean and disrupted feeling at once. Momentum slowly builds, gathering up other instruments in downhill slide to musical distopia. You feel as though you’re hearing a catastrophe occurring. The downhill run, the sound that now is reminiscent of an ambulance, the building of momentum, tension, adrenaline—you’re hearing a hit and run. “Fences” climaxes and breaks more than once, collecting all its previous sounds, organs, guitars, keyboards, drums, to this near explosion before dissipating into a single distorted guitar. The end wanes off into hopeful ambience and eventually a little vocal work to ‘play us out’ (Thanks, Bill O’Reilly).

Trip down a few more tracks and there’s “Countdown (Sick for the Big Sun)”—this one seems different from the rest of the album. It’s heavier, more weighted by life, less lighthearted and sweet. This sounds a little more jaded. Nights with friends that have had hard times on long summer nights, but want to be optimistic. It still stays in line with the rest of the album while making its own claim to be heard. Drums are a little more crashing, guitars cleaner but pulling quick strums. This could be on the soundtrack to some new arty movie with Zooey Deschanel.

“Girlfriends,” one line down, is back in the more standard sound of this album, which isn’t a bad thing. It sounds sweet and soft, almost like a wonderful little secret. This is a song you can tell was inspired by an actual girl. High-noted riffs and lightly distorted guitars twine together with Mars’ heart-sore voice, topped off with some happy little synthesizers. Lyrics are stronger here, more pronounced than in other songs. And that guitar riff is so engaging, grabbing your ears and pulling your heart. You need a significant other for this song. It’ll make it better.

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix; nine songs for summer nights. If you weren’t crushing on this group’s sound before, you’ll be loving it now.

And yes, they’ll call.


Phoenix – “1901” – [mp3]

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is out May 26th. Buy it on Amazon.

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