PHOX - PHOX
The debut, self-titled LP from American indie-pop group PHOX sees the band throwing everything they have at its songs. On occasion it results in a kind of glorious cacophony, but more often than not the band executes their complex multi-instrumentalism with understated class.
'Calico Man' opens things in a very low-key fashion, with just a bass, the glorious vocal of frontwoman Monica Martin and, if you listen carefully, the occasional atmospheric sound of a synth. Next track 'Leisure' kicks in with strings, pianos and drums and by the conclusion of third track 'Slow Motion' it’s built up to guitars, banjos, whistling, handclaps, three-part harmonies and more to come.
It takes great skill to pack so much into these songs without the final result sounding congested. But there's sufficient space between everything on PHOX that it doesn't sound as if anything needs to be taken away. These robust arrangements have been meticulously constructed and expertly captured. They recorded PHOX at Bon Iver's Wisconsin studio and, while they're rather different acts, Justin Vernon's choral pop influence can be heard in much of the band's music.
PHOX is generally understated indie folk, but offers a point of difference from the countless acts ploughing that ground right now by using unique arrangements and instrumentation. Rather than imagine a man alone in a mountain shack, that shack is filled with a score of people, blowing, strumming, clapping and singing along. But the generally gloomy tone of the songs still makes it sound like they’re lonely, perhaps emotionally isolated from one another.
The passages in which the band take quirky detours – the joyous riff in the middle of 'Kingfisher', the jittery, distorted bridge of 'Shrinking Violets' – add some much appreciated colour to the songs and make them feel less predictable. There’s plenty to take in and enjoy.