by Chris Familton
This feels like the big one for the Wellington sextet, even before it was released there were ads and editorial appearing in international music magazines like Uncut and MOJO and a real sense of coming of age has been in the air. Not that they haven’t already arrived, their preceding albums all contain absolute gems of literate guitar pop (Hitchcock, 40 Years, This Charming Van) that balanced intellect and emotional sway with equal gravity. Fandango takes all that they have created to date, refines it to its key musical elements and spreads it across a gleaming technicolor canvas.
The band have allowed themselves space and time on this record. Time in the sense of tracks being allowed to slowly evolve and morph, settle into mesmerising grooves and atmospheres. Eight of the album’s eleven tracks exceed five minutes and yet only one outstays its welcome. The element of space in their music partners with its loose time parameters in that they’ve enabled themselves the room to carefully compose and arrange the songs beautifully. Notes hang in the air like the shimmering guitar on the opening track Black Mould, an ode to the damp conditions of residential homes in New Zealand. They sound more comfortable at pairing up single instruments like vocals and guitar and only introducing others when the song requires them. This technique allows a song like Modern Rock to gently swell and grow. It feels organic even though its rhythmic krautrock backbone is robotic in nature.
First single The Captain cuts through the hazier wanderings with its direct synth pop approach. It has that nostalgic mood that bands like Ducktails and Destroyer have executed so well in recent years and highlights the subtle funk component of The Phoenix Foundation’s sound that has slowly gained more and more prominence with each album. They cut a similar feel on Evolution Did, taking them further into electronica territory while losing nothing of their own established sound. That ability is always a mark of great musicians and songwriters.
One hallmark of The Phoenix Foundation has always been the lightness or breezy aspect of their music. Here they’ve allowed themselves to also venture into darker, psychedelic places as on Corale with its swirling split personality of gentle psych folk in the first half and then the swirling and ominous kosmiche wig-out in the song’s latter section. They hit a similar spot on Morning Riff but it is presented as a very precise piece of music, almost devoid of emotion but still possessing some weird undercurrent that, combined with the clever melody of the central riff, makes for a real highlight of Fandango.
Surely lined up as a single is Walls with its effervescent, wordless “doo doo doo doo” chorus and The Cure meets The Smiths snatches of guitar making it one of their finest pop moments to date. The album closes with a seventeen minute tracks that shows potential early on but after six minutes it transitions into a rather disjointed patchwork of instrumental moments that ultimately lacks substance and could have easily been omitted from the album. That being said, one can just pretend the records ends at the previous song if they find Friendly Society similarly disappointing.
Fandango is a bold album that takes some risks and makes the vast majority of them successes. It is the sign of a band reaching the apex of their abilities as songwriters and players, harnessing the key qualities of indie, pop, funk, post punk, electronica and krautrock and creating from them the signature sound of The Phoenix Foundation, with gloriously indulgent and yet wholly accessible results.
this review was first published on UnderTheRadar