Phoenix | Alphabetical (Astralwerks)

The lucid songwriting display can get under your flesh and cause it to sway back and forth.

France and the guitar: the two fall short of any kind of correlation. Music fans around the world normally link the French with electronically synthesized beats that make listeners sweat instead of chill (i.e., Daft Punk, Miss Kittin). French natives Phoenix act as Air’s kid brother who relishes The Beatles more than Kraftwerk. Not that Alphabetical is without the use of voltage; it’s all about the subtle combination of sounding organic and technological at the same time. The songs are solid in form and function and complimented adequately by all musicians involved.

Although Phoenix leaves out a significant amount of pliable information in their work, it’s still captivating to the approachable and auditory senses. Their aloofness seems intentional, which makes “Victim of the Crime” a song better deciphered with each listen: “Lost illusions/Try the best that you can do/You might get another chance/Burn my leather coat/I need to change my suit/You don’t listen to a single word I say.” If a song is worth questioning, it’s worth listening to. Perhaps, this makes me a devotee of mild surrealism in music—especially when it prowls.

“Everything Is Everything” could be a love song or it could be a hate song—it’s tricky to draw the line between one and the other. In conjunction with the rest of Alphabetical, it’s another brainteaser just complex enough to warrant the time required to solve it—it’s not too complex for enthusiasm. “The more I talk about it/The less I do control/Everything means everything/Can’t understand a word/Half of the stuff I’m saying.” The lucid songwriting display can get under your flesh and cause it to sway back and forth.

Among the awkward concoctions on Alphabetical, each track promises reassurance and comfort when the delightfully quirky lyrics are paired up with the sincerity of the band’s instrumentation. “Holdin’ on Together” is unmistakably the best track on this record because the harmonies are solid, the rhythm is infectious—and the lyrics? “Ghetto uniform, collect calls/That I can explain/All the things I’ve ruined, abandoned/They come back to me.” I’m okay with not knowing the full story, sometimes for fear or disappointment of it being something very ordinary beneath the surface. Either way, it fits my imagination like a glove.

Phoenix’s journey of the mind is dependent on minimalism in places and in the spirit of this simplicity, they’ve sequenced Alphabetical in a thematic Lynchian way in some parts, while in others it acts as a temperamental sequel to World Party’s Ship of Fools. The best way to sum up this record might be with a series of inkblots in a comfy chaise lounge. I say this with utmost respect because if it were any less, it wouldn’t be worth the countless cycles spent in my stereo.

 

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