Merci, France! Next to Sweden and Canada, you are responsible for some of the finest musical exports of this century alone, dishing out the crÃ¨me-de-la-crÃ¨me of indie poppers and electronic music makers alike. After Daft Punk rolled out, you blessed us with Justice. It was only a matter of time before Emilie Simon and Air followed suit. Now here comes indie darlings, Phoenix, the fabulous quartet that’s releasing one of this year’s best records to date, with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
If you’re at all familiar with Phoenix’s impressive albums, you’ll recognize that they get consistently better. Produced by Philippe Zdar, one-half of the electronic wizards who make up Cassius, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is heavy on synth compressors and dance-worthy beats, much like the band’s first album, United, which isn’t so strange because Zdar produced United, as well. In a recent interview with Under The Radar, vocalist Thomas Mars said the compressors heard on Wolfgang were cheaply purchased in America, due to the economic recession that we’ve been lamenting over for some time now. Who knew the crisis could lead to something as good as this?
Synthesized keyboards and other electronic programming, played at mid to high tempo speed, carry most of what is heard on Wolfgang, which is why it has a power pop feel. Mars’s vocals also contribute to its pervading pop sound – the range of notes he continuously hits is typically on the higher end of the scale, and he isn’t afraid to hold them out on numerous occasions. He manages to keep his vocals sounding clean and refined despite the demands of no-room-to breathe, tongue twisting lyrics and quick, thumping beats (“Lisztomania”). However, Mars has a wry voice and it’s usually evident at the end of most of the songs’ verses, where he bends notes like it’s taffy. When he does, he often finds himself in a falsetto, sounding like he found inspiration from old soul records, as it’s heard on “Rome”. This sad pop number, about love nevermore, best exemplifies Mars’s aforementioned capabilities, and the crack and fragility in his vocals provide the song emotional texture.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is on the brink of garage rock revival, as it coveys an energetic mood, and is loaded with string arrangements and pulsating percussion. The songwriting is stellar and can definitely be appreciated by a fan of The Strokes as it exudes apathy, bittersweet nostalgia, wonder, sexiness and hunger for companionship. However, it doesn’t meet all the standards of the garage rock revival. It’s immaculately polished, melodic and often too funky, much like the band’s previous albums — but that’s what makes it all exciting. Take a song like “Fences”, for instance. This lush track borrows from Fleetwood Mac (it’s in the guitar), yet it’s laden with electronic surprises, too. Then there’s the dreamy tuned percussion that collides with complex guitar riffs on “Love Like a Sunset, Pt. I”, all of which puts Wolfgang in a far different category of alternative rock.
It’s strange what Phoenix has been able to do to sustain its success, which is to simply play the type of music it’s best at playing. Minus the band’s moodier and fragile second release, Alphabetical, Phoenix hasn’t really felt the pressure to reshape its sound or try new things. Consistency is golden.