Review: The Phoenix Foundation “Fandango”

Fandango

Funny story, my esteemed editors wanted me to review French electro-poppers “Phoenix” and I automatically read it as “Phoenix Foundation” and went on to talk about how I listened to an interview with them on National Radio (when I worked a bakery job before tiring of the possibly sociopathic baker’s antics). Oh, you mean Phoenix. Band I am marginally familiar with – though admittedly I’m not all that buddy buddy with Phoenix Foundation, either. So esteemed editors ended up sending me the Phoenix Foundation album – it’s called Fandango, and it’s a whopping two hip-looking CDs, and I ended up enjoying those French electro-poppers a lot more than I expected and reviewing them first.

Long story short: I haven’t got to Phoenix Foundation yet. Oh, I’ve written notes. Copious notes. Mentions of harking back to 70s longform LPs and organic sounding synthesizers and so on. I’ve sat in a darkened lounge listening to CD one, taking a break and then CD two. The album actually works best in that kind of situation, probably because it makes me imagine my 70s self opening up a brand new LP by the Jacques Derrida Experience or whatever and sitting beside a fire a turning on the Hi-Fi. In this situation Fandango is an altogether pleasant experience: much like walking through a synthesizer forest. And like many forests, unless you are a hiker or one of those types, everything is somewhat indistinct. It is hard to tell one song apart from another. Some songs, like ‘The Captain’ hark back to Split Enz-like melodies I was never too fond of in the first place, and other songs merely use vocals as another texture. Texture is key here: the album’s opening track, ‘Black Mould’, builds up textures worthy of Kate Bush and is a charming little ditty about black mould (ditto the name). I relate to this because the last flat we lived in most likely had black mould in it, was damp and cold and we were sick most of the time. I suspect many houses are like this in New Zealand, though. It’s a good track that probably goes on for a minute too long.

‘Black Mould’ is good but ‘Modern Rock’ is six minutes of self-indulgent dithering (this is “authentic”, if you want to use that word, to all those double albums in the 70s that also had self-indulgent dithering). The album continues in this fashion – catchy little snippets here and there (the drum sampling at the start of ‘Walls’ is fantastic), but mostly indistinct, especially with the insistence of group or multi-tracked vocals. They’re good some of the time, these multi-tracked vocals! But not all of the time! Here they are abused throughout, tiringly so, wearingly so, exhaustingly so.

Fandango is an achievement: a coherent double album that invokes textures and feelingz, lots of greenery, fuzzy fires and dinky drinks cabinets, and as a piece of atmospheric recording it’s quite good. But as a collection of songs it falls down under the scope of its own ambition: I can’t help think that a well chosen amount of songs, shorter in both length and number, would’ve resulted in a better album.

[B-]

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