Release Date: Jun 24, 2014
Record label: Partisan
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop
After repeatedly listening to Phox’s delightful first full-length release and seeing the band perform marvelously live more than once, their songs still maintain their mystery. That doesn’t make them meaningless. Rather the meanings seem to be derived from the sounds of the words mixed with instrumentation. The lyrics themselves are somewhat ambiguous and evocative of moods and feelings.
The late jazz legend Louis Armstrong famously said, “What we play is life.” It was a timeless observation that equated music with personal expression – the culmination and synthesis of individual perspectives, experiences, dreams, fears, talents, and inspirations. Louis’s been dead for over 40 years, but he would no doubt have appreciated Phox, the eponymous LP from a group of musicians with the extraordinary ability to breathe life, their lives, into a characteristic brand of indie-folk. More than anything, Phox is refreshingly and revealingly human.
There was a kaleidoscope in my parent’s house that had these two stained-glass discs at the end of the looking piece. You could spin each one in opposite directions, and when either one moved just the slightest bit, the entire vision morphing in front of your eyes changed entirely. PHOX is reminiscent of that kaleidoscope in a way. The sextet’s distinct musical voices—that certainly comprise of more than just six instruments—create such a varied range of sounds.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. The wunderkinder of Phox are oftentimes defined by two things: their home town and their numbers. Hailing from the sleepy circus town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, singer Monica Martin and her band of merry men have lived a kind of fairy tale narrative since first breaking out at SXSW 2013. In just over a year they've found themselves supporting numerous national acts, playing iTunes Festival, and becoming one of the most critically fawned-over artists in the business despite not having previously released an album proper.
The eponymous debut album from the Baraboo, Wisconsin-based seven-piece is as unassuming as it is oddly decadent, offering up a heady mix of cosmopolitan, worldbeat-infused, yet still distinctly Midwestern-sounding indie pop and breezy collegiate folk that falls somewhere between Vampire Weekend, Norah Jones, Brazilian Girls, and Sade. These are songs meant to accompany late-night misadventures filled with sugary drinks, shimmering, post-skinny-dip neck lines, and exhaustive, yet never combative pre-dawn discussions about love, religion, sex, and death, and they're delivered with supreme lubrication via the soulful and hypnotic voice of formidable frontwoman Monica Martin. The evocative, stripped-down "Calico Man" sets the table, laying out a cool pastiche of bossa nova-kissed indie pop and de-fanged Brooklyn cool that deftly juggles melancholy and sweetness, serving as a nice intro to the string-laden, music school chamber pop of the more propulsive "Leisure" and "Slow Motion.
Friends since attending high school in Baraboo, WI, the six members of PHOX decided to move into a house just north of Madison and form a band. What originally started out as friends making delicate and endearing folk songs turned into a self-released 2013 “video EP,” Confetti, and now, a debut self-titled full-length, their first on Partisan Records. Recorded in Justin Vernon’s April Base Studio in Fall Creek, WI, PHOX is warmly crafted and welcoming, the cohesive product of a group living together for more than two years.
“Everything I do, I do in slow motion,” sings Phox frontwoman Monica Martin, in a voice that flutters from echoed lows to soaring highs with such ease that you forget there might be notes that exist in between. The song, “Slow Motion,” is layered with everything from synth breaks to firing drum passes to cheerful whistles and even an opening guitar lick that evokes Ryan Adams, but unfolds to be anything but – like the Wisconsin six-piece’s self-titled album, it’s full of so many rolling waves and sonic surprises it’s difficult to predict what’s coming next. Recorded at Justin Vernon’s studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Phox displays a knack similar to that of Mr.
Straight out of Wisconsin, appearing like a Cath Kidston-sponsored collage made of cupcakes, Beatrix Potter novels, a 14-year old’s Tumblr, banjo strings and the contents of your Gran's front room, I present you with Phox. As a preface, I should say that skewering twee doesn't appeal to me. There’s no dearth of material if you wanted to: the name for starters; their previous EP called Confetti; the fact that they're a sextet perhaps; a song called 'Satyr and the Fawn'; maybe the stuffed bunny rabbit head mounted on the wall of their album cover.
Phox are a six-piece folk pop band from Baraboo, Wisconsin. This, their debut, was recorded in neighbour Justin Vernon’s studio, though the emphatic ‘Shrinking Violets’ and Laura Veirs-esque ‘Satyr And The Faun’ are the only moments they threaten to get near the quality of Bon Iver’s output. Too often they veer dangerously into acoustic whimsy, the kind you’d find on an advert for a software giant who couldn’t get clearance for the original song, so commissions a homeopathically diluted cover.
Out of Wisconsin, the six-piece PHOX is the kind of band that sounds thoroughly modern, like a time capsule of indie-pop circa 2014. Which is to say it’s the latest ensemble that mines classic strains of folk, pop, and soul with a dynamic woman on lead vocals. The Boston-bred Lake Street Dive also comes to mind, as does Lucius. Like its peers, PHOX (which is pronounced “fox”) gets a lot of mileage out of charm, particularly in a live setting.
The self-titled debut LP from this Wisconsin band shimmers and flows with a delicate intimacy that probably should have come from the hands of a producer who has crafted the autumnal folk of Bon Iver or Aimee Mann. Hence, despite its musical breeziness and date of release, it’s not your standard indie-pop summer soundtrack. Having nixed the car commercial catchiness that is de rigueur for current indie-pop acts, it’s clear from the start that PHOX is not particularly concerned with how they’re perceived.
Alter egos — Riff Raff’s had a few. There are Jody Highroller, Kokayne Dawkinz and any of the hundreds of off-the-cuff monikers he bestows upon himself in song or on Twitter. Riff Raff is malleable, a canvas forever in need of fresh paint. In this fashion, he’s carved out a sui generis hip-hop career over the last few years, popping up in unlikely places with unlikely friends (everyone from Drake to Chief Keef) and rapping unlikely lyrics in unlikely structures.