Release Date: Jun 14, 2011
Record label: Memphis Industries
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Pop, Neo-Psychedelia
Taking a route increasingly denied to British pop, these New Zealanders have been able to develop under the radar over a decade before delivering what feels like a major breakthrough. Buffalo doesn't reinvent the wheel. It's an album of dreamy, psychedelic pop: Byrdsy harmonies, Fleet Foxes-type haziness and a hushed transcendence reminiscent of the Stone Roses' gentler moments.
A couple of weeks ago, I knew nothing of The Phoenix Foundation; even now I can’t tell you much more than the vital statistics: a six-piece indie rock outfit from Wellington in New Zealand. They’re a touch successful in their homeland, picking up various awards whose names are, admittedly, meaningless to me. Since 1997 it seems they have been carefully honing their skills to form a sound somewhere between the likes of Super Furry Animals and Fleet Foxes.
The drowsy/easy psych-drone-pop amble of "Eventually" starts the Phoenix Foundation's 2010 full-length album on an agreeably understated pace, as good a way to set a tone as a full-on blast might be. The main guitar line, a little Feelies and a little post-punk epic art, mixed with a bit of classic rock imagery thanks to the lyrics, finds a kind of happy blend that the band has worked to make its own. The similar sense of gentle fusion and picking among the ruins of the past crops up throughout Buffalo -- the polite Velvets/pub rock chug of "Flock of Hearts" shaped by some sweet chimes and a bit of distant Mellotron/vocal chorusing along with a very glammy guitar break.
And so another scribe finds himself left in a jam over the distribution of arbitrary numbers. In 2009, chirpy New Zealanders The Phoenix Foundation made a bit of a splash with an at-the-time wet-behind-the-ears Drowned In Sound writer who hastily chucked an eight out of ten at them without the merest of second thoughts. The trouble though was that Happy Ending – their third LP but first on these shores – was hardly clicked upon again after that review, its surface gloss and shimmering indie pop was certainly affable but ultimately proved to have a short shelf life.
New Zealand’s the Phoenix Foundation, so named after a fictitious organization on the hit ‘80s TV series MacGyver, has been riding a boatload of hype over their fourth proper album, Buffalo, which was originally released in their home country in 2010 and spent five consecutive weeks in the Top 10 there. The six-piece band got a lauded five-star review in the United Kingdom’s The Guardian newspaper, which called Buffalo “an album that already seems destined to be among the best of 2011”, when it was released in Britain earlier this year. The disc has gotten similarly glowing reviews from the likes of The Times and The Independent.
Nonetheless full of catchy riffs and nice melodies, the ultimate problem with The Phoenix Foundation‘s Buffalo is that each song is very strong as a standalone track but let down by its combination with others; it’s like eating the same really good meal 10 times in a row. To illustrate that, you really could take any of the album’s tracks. “Bitte Bitte”, for example, focuses on the familiar but pleasurable trick of running the same melody across several instruments, the vocal line following them; “Orange & Mango” has a similar feel, with harmonised vocals recalling Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down in the Schoolyard”.
If you’re looking for a record to banish the winter, this could be it. Andrzej Lukowski 2010 A peculiarity of the rise of the blogosphere as an agenda-setting force is that while there now exists a sprawling global network of hipsters that will gluttonously pounce on the demos of unsigned US chillwave artists the second they’re uploaded to wordpress, it is, conversely, perfectly possible for a genuinely successful band from a quieter quadrant of the world to possess almost no international profile. Wellington, New Zealand’s The Phoenix Foundation have been together for over a decade, enjoying acclaim at home, but making painstaking progress globally.