Do you dream in colour, or in black and white? Colours and dreams are defiantly Technicolor and subscribed to, with the vibe definitely in the ‘out there’ category, as Kiwi psych-rockers The Phoenix Foundation blast off for their self-produced sixth album orbit.
Slipping under the public radar until fourth album Buffalo brought them to wider attention, they’ve been creating works that have been described as ‘growers’ for a number of years. Sharing a love of psych-rock favoured by fellow antipodeans Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra hopefully won’t see them veering into the 80’s-cheese cul-de-sac that the other two seem to have opted for, after delivering previous albums of invention and character.
Thankfully, despite the wryly downbeat title (which came from a friend’s advice to give up their aspirations to enjoy making their art) the music is anything but. Instead it surfs wave upon wave of harmonious ‘sunshine pop’, eroding the surface veneer of cynicism in a partially-baked playfulness as it goes. It’s a record not giving a hoot what’s expected of its makers, one that’s packed to the gunnels with bustling rhythms, whipsmart arrangements and an all-encompassing production of shimmering spectacles.
Sheathed in a sleeve depicting an architectural netherworld or Monument Valley-esque-scape, it gives little away to what lies within. Mountain kicks things off in suitably epic proportions, with a busy rhythm shaking it’ stuff as the mantra of “all non-believers follow the leaders, no hesitation, full motivation” crashes at the peak, with guitars picking out multiple pretty melodies.
Musically it’s not too far from fellow UK sonic-wiggers Temples and their love of music from the ’60s and ’70s, a time when hair was long, guitars became sitars and they might have been in the gutter but they were sure looking at the stars (maaan). As if by magic, two ’60s icons get name-mashed in – Bob Lennon John Dylan (as does Yoko Bono (sic)) – on this rollicking rhythm-fest that splices a Krautrock drive with guitar freak outs and a relentless joy that’s hard to escape.
What is different in Phoenix Foundation world this time round has been the embrace of the rhythm section (drummer Chris O’Connor and bassist Tom Callwood) as an immediate central song arranging force. Songs whip and contort, through heady airs of incantation (Playing Dead), snaky tempos, ceremonial grooves, disco basslines (Celestial Bodies) cult-like choral (on The Polyphonic Spree-like Sunbed) whipping themselves around the song before finally letting go.
Co-fronted by Samuel Scott and Lukasz Buda, there’s a huge amount of tongues in cheeks with this band and its output, as evidenced by ‘affirming’ words on the title track: “The world is not an oyster. The world is cold dark planet…on a ceaseless journey to its own destruction.” So, tell us Phoenix Foundation, what can we do? “All we can do is be alright about it and get on with stuff.” Fair dinkum. Or we could listen to Myth, which tells of shape-shifting beasts over a burbling synth before splitting in two with a down-tempo segue replete with temple bells melody that makes for some respite.
It’s all rather wonderful nonsense – playful, engaging and not always entirely successful. But come take a trip, and surely you won’t be disappointed.