Phox, the multi-instrumental band of six friends from Baraboo, Wisconsin, have established a fine niche for themselves with their unique take on indie music. It’s difficult to characterize the band as they’re a bit of many things – folk, pop, alt-country, Americana, New Orleans jazz, brooding bluesy folk. On their self-titled debut album, the collective have captured the essence of all these genres and, as a result, created an infectious and enthralling album. Another way to imagine this young band – mix together Norah Jones, Sarah Harmer, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Beirut, and Daughter, and you get Phox.
The low-key opener “Calico Man” is a great introduction – simple and subtle with the focus predominantly on the smokey voice of frontwoman Monica Martin. The folk-pop-Americana mix is best highlighted by “Leisure”, the sublime “Slow Motion”, and “Evil”, which make up the next three tracks on the album. Each on their own are standout tracks, never deviating too closely from the mainstream Americana on today’s radio (such as The Lumineers) and adding a touch of pop and symphonic elements.
“Shrinking Violets” is reminiscent of Sarah Harmer’s great tune, “Lodestar”, with the mellow start and the rising climax supported by a trumpet to give that extra oomph. Another trumpet-induced climatic tune is “Noble Heart”, a superb, spirited track in the mold of Beirut.
But where the band’s musicianship and talents really come to light are on the mellower, softer tracks, where the sextet demonstrates great restraint to allow every nuance – from each note played to the crack of Martin’s voice – to be heard. “Raspberry Seed” is a stunning, slow-building 7-minute track. It is dreamy, eerie, and haunting. “Laura”, which comes in at just over 6 minutes, is a slightly brooding folk melody a la Daughter, and the song itself could be considered the sequel to Bat for Lashes’ song of the same name.
Phox is a sleek album, maybe considered by some as “simple” (there aren’t any prolonged guitar solos, dueling guitars, nor complex arrangements that you might find in a Brian Eno album). However, the greatness of the album lies in its simplicity and subtleties, where the instruments as a whole and Martin’s voice work in perfect harmony. The album is also refreshing in that Phox is not trying to be like other indie folk outfits out there today – they’re not creating the anthemic, top-40 Americana but rather thoughtful, compelling music. And with the support of recording engineer Brian Joseph (Bon Iver), the band is able to do just that by creating a sprawling sound without going too far or too high, knowing perfectly when to provide soaring notes and denouements and when to bring it down to more subtle sounds.
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