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The Phoenix Foundation- Give Up Your Dreams (Memphis Industries)

0005087024_10Six albums in and New Zealand experimental pop explorers The Phoenix Foundation (TPF) continue to surprise with their unpredictable synthesis of yesteryear genres progressive rock and psychedelic pop with modern day indie accessibility. Although their style has once again evolved with their line-up shifting over their 18-year existence, Give Up Your Dreams displays their personality and life advisement at its most crystalline.

After the overrated, counterproductive and uncharacteristic bore of Buffalo – their first album in phase two of their musical endurance: the international exposure stage – TPF reversed back to their antecedent creative freedom with Fandango, an ambitious album that featured long-developing pieces of intoxicating prog bliss, made unpretentious by TPF’s idiosyncratic imaginative personification of everything from black mould to ghosts. They also approached shiny synth-pop and a funky edge on kraut-rock for the first time and moved light years away from their original folk and alternative country leanings.

Thankfully, Give Up Your Dreams (GUYD) is just as inventive but is magically more digestible in its first sitting than their previous slow burning offerings. It’s this instant excitement and rapport that makes their single ‘Bob Lennon John Dylan’ a magnetic gateway for a new fanbase. Contradictory word-play, intellectual rhymes and an electrifying shred guitar, it doesn’t compromise quality for infectiousness. ‘Jason’ also demonstrates the further opening up of Samuel Flynn Scott’s voice from the calmness of Chris Martin and Damon Albarn into the passion of Win Butler.

‘Celestial Bodies’, ‘Myth’ and ‘Silent Orb’ are the most striking examples of genre adaptation. ‘Celestial Bodies’ incorporates new rave in its spontaneous non-lexical vocables (think Haddaway‘s ‘What is Love’) and rolling groove around Samuel Flynn Scott’s calm Ezra Koenig voice and melancholic dream pop. ‘Silent Orb‘ could be defined as arcade-latin-jazz with a spacious atmosphere aided by the precise corner placement of the vocals. ‘Myth’ hints at a nocturnal R&B beat with neon-lit keyboards for a short moment that could have been extended into one of TPF’s full instrumental tracks – a sacrificed aspect of their later work that hopefully will be relaunched.

Welcoming opener ‘Mountain’ picks up on their fondness for neo-psychedelia harmonies and the jungle environment of Glass Animals – also heard as the tribal rhythms of colourful Animal Collective-esque Playing Dead – but has a Foals-type aggression to its direction. It’s perfectly complimented by a music video that pokes fun at certain phoney new age cults and their recruitment of only beautiful women.

However, their strongest paradigm of the contrasting battle between their head-in-the-clouds surreal imagery and a revolutionary mission to bring audiences down to earth with their nihilistic views is lyrically in the title track Give Up Your Dreams. Although, it could be seen as contradictory – considering the success and accolades of the band – TPF advise us to tone down our optimism for false hope, self-significance and meaning in life and call the world a “cold dark planet floating through an infinite space in a ceaseless journey towards its own destruction.” Yet it’s so joyful, confident and celebratory in its delivery that it’s clear that TPF want listeners to seek reassurance in structured rationalism and focus on the jubilation of now.

A journey that is not wasted because it’s been a fun ride: rewarding and full of growth like the evolution of The Phoenix Foundation as maturing fathers and experienced musicians.

[Rating:4]

 

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.