Phil Jones is a man of few words, and by few, he makes Marc Bolan sound like Wordsworth. “Hot dream, warm touch / Cool bed, you’re tough” breaths Jones on “Supersoaker”, the second track on his debut LP, Velvet Changes.
Branching out from his main gig as Washed Out’
s touring keyboardist, the Georgia-born art school dropout, now Dog Bite
, searches for a melody that won’t harsh his mellow.
Employing actual instruments gives the “chill-wave” LP a retro appeal. The plum riff that begins “Forever, Until” and similar surf rock modulations transport Jones and his laptop to a beach in California. But Jones remains the bonfire buzzkill, preferring “The Fire And The Woods” to any “Holiday Man”. When he sings, “You’re Not That Great”, he sounds as chipper as Ally Sheedy plopped next to a ’60s beach bunny. With every synth jolt, a seagull falls from the sky.
The psychedelic nightmare compels the LP and the best songs are the druggiest, like the maraca-pumping “Prettiest Pills” and the light swagger of “Stay Sedated”. Both songs evoke a peculiar humor, especially when words like “alone” and “over” congeal in the distorted, monotone vocal. “Paper Lungs” pivots between major-chord twang and a strained minor. The acrid shift is about as comfortable as swallowing water the wrong way over and over.
The relentless quality subsides in part during the closer, “My Mary,” the begrudging portrait of a muse. In his lowest register, Jones articulates despondence for the first time on the LP. It seems that his Mary is somewhere in a dark tunnel of gut-punching drums — a place Jones clearly doesn’t want to be — but is going one way or another. He may not be the most verbose artist, but the temperament of a reluctant romantic is a quality he shares with some great ones.
Essential Tracks: “Forever, Until”, “Prettiest Pills”