To begin our countdown to the new musical year, I will be exploring ten 2009 releases by looking in-depth into their background, influences and personal evolution. The next album in this series is Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix.
You may have heard of them if:
- You watch Entourage. (“Lisztomania” plays at the end of this last season finale.)
- You watch SNL. (They were the musical guest in April.)
- You watch late night TV. (They’ve graced Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon with “Lisztomania” and David Letterman and Conan O’Brien with “1901″.)
- You watch Gossip Girl. (The DJ played “1901” at Georgina’s rooftop party in The Freshmen and “1901” also plays in the Sonic Youth episode.)
- You watch Royal Pains. (“Lisztomania” is the intro song in an episode of RP’s debut season.)
- You watch Cougar Town. (“Lisztomania” can be heard during the season premiere.)
- You are a 2010 Cadillac SRX enthusiast. (“1901” is the background track for its current commercial.)
- You are a movie trailer enthusiast. (“Lisztomania” and “1901” were featured in trailers for Where the Wilds Things Are and New York, I Love You, respectively.)
- You are really into anything French. (They are, in fact, from Versailles)
- You read any music publication. (Everyone’s crazy about them.)
You may like them if you like: Vampire Weekend, MGMT, Passion Pit, Animal Collective, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, pop-culture, French guys, etc.
Fresh off Rolling Stone’s Hot List, Phoenix has quickly gone from underground indie to super pop breakthrough of the year. The four frenchmen got their start doing a back up mix for Air and have made five kick-ass albums (one being their live album) since.
Comprised of Thomas Mars (vocals), Deck D’Arcy (bass), Laurent Brancowitz (guitar) and Christian Mazzalai (guitar), Phoenix has been slowly making their way to wide international recognition since 2000. With United creeping into the French charts in 2000 and their sophomore album Alphabetical dominating Norwegian and Swedish charts in 2004, this year, they’ve successfully infiltrated the charts in over ten countries, reaching the top 25 in six.
One of Phoenix’s greatest talents is how natural they make every transition. You can notice the change from verse to chorus, song to song and album to album, but it sounds like a perfectly natural course of action. They make good music sound easy and carefree, which is what great pop should do. They’ve perfected this art with Wolfgang Amaedus Phoenix and clearly broken through the international barrier and won the hearts and minds of a U.S. audience.
The album bounds forth energetically with the ball of energy that is “Lisztomania.” With a bouncy backbeat and playful chords, the song tears a page out of a history book with a reference to renown musician and teacher, Franz Liszt. Through this clever comparison, Mars takes us through the thrill of playing a concert and being adored, (“think less but see it grow, like a riot, like a riot, oh!”) if only for a few minutes.
“1901” continues the history lesson with a dedication to 19th century France. With a little more edge to it than the opener, “1901” plays up the synth as we realize “it’s not what you say, what you say is way too complicated.” The two singles are really complimentary in some respects as the clear stand out tracks of the album. But that’s not to say the other eight tracks aren’t rock your socks poptacular.
The album takes a dream-like turn with “Fences,” which is like an homage to the quartet’s Air days, and continues the approach to the two part instrumental interlude, “Love Like a Sunset.”
As you embark into the second half of the album, the boys play a little love tune about a lost love that’s really not all that depressing. They power on into “Rome,” where the band wails on as Mars claims “always and forevermore I call to say I’m on the way” as the ashes fall, fall, fall.
Then we reach “Countdown,” the only true heartbreaker of the album. Once you hear the question, “Do you remember when 21 years was old?” you can’t help but feel the pangs of nostalgia creep up inside you. But the fiery symbols and Mars’ dying to be sincere lyrics swear it’s “better than it looks.”
Next comes a fairly bouncy break up song with a quick backbeat simply titled “Girlfriend” which sounds more optimistic than melancholy. And for the finale, “Armistice” explores the compromise of “lovers in a rush” which seems to be okay to all parties involved.
Phoenix cooks up vicarious living and nostalgia and conjures up images of sunsets and childhood into a 36 minute pot of energetic beats and quirky chords. Our new masters of pop craftsmanship can make any situation sound like a good time and in these tough times, that’s exactly what we need.