Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

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As everyone and their mothers and their mothers’ mothers knows, there’s a dropoff in quality after “1901” that the band don’t ever recover from. The thing is, though, even if this album didn’t contain “Lisztomania” and “1901,” it’d still be a good album; the dropoff is only noticeable because critics want to be critical, and me, I’m too busy dancing and singing. The real dropoff happens after “Rome,” with only “Girlfriend” standing out because of the keyboard hook after the chorus (ie. at the 1:20 mark). 

“Fences” and “Lasso” are punchier numbers with hooks that are dumber either lyrically (“Lasso”) or melodically (the falsetto of “Fences” doesn’t have much room to go) than “Lisztomania” and “1901,” but overall, still successful. The former offers a groovy bass and the latter has these big booming drums that turn into a nonstop snareroll in the chorus, a transition that doesn’t sound awkward because of the guitars that drop in and climb up during the pre-chorus. “Rome” is melodic enough (and memorable too, what with an opening couplet like “Who’s the boy you like the most? / Is he teasing you with underage?”) that you ought to get to the whirling helicopter of the bridge without any ado (starting at the 1:41 mark), before it drops you into a quieter section with you standing outside in the rain (notice the lyric shift from “We shared a cigarette somewhere” to “I burned the cigarette somewhere”) before the chorus drops again, this time with the whirling helicopter on top. 

“Love Like A Sunset,” the album’s centerpiece shows the band’s prowess at progressive numbers in addition to their pop/rock mentality. Though the album’s tracklist makes it seem like there’s only two distinct parts, it really is more like six different parts stitched together (though the stitches never show): moving from standing outside in the rain with electric guitar-produced raindrops to acoustic guitar-produced ones (starting at the 1:12 mark) to finally getting inside inside a disco (starting at the 2:17 mark) to the hangover the next morning (starting at the 3:10 mark) (particularly loved the washed out riff that starts at the 3:22 mark) before merging practically everything together. “Love Like A Sunset Part 2” features a sizable riff for the first minute and a 30-second coda that repeat everything the lyrics said, but with an acoustic guitar instead. 

As for the big two, though everyone talks about “1901” more, I’m more partial towards “Lisztomania,” which bounces instead of buzzes (if you’re not dancing to the syncopated riff and drums, you’re doing it wrong). Regardless, both songs are the rarest of things: perfect songs. And something no one seems to talk about is how smart Thomas Mars is, shifting through phonetically similar words like English was his first language (ie. “From the mess to the masses”, “Discuss” to “Discourage”, “Counting all different ideas drifting away”), repeating all the essential bits (ie. “Like a riot, like a riot, OH!”, “This is show time, this is show time”, “It’s twenty seconds ’til the last call, going ‘hey hey hey hey hey hey’, and the infamous “fold it” versus “falling” debate; these cats are really too happy to have used the latter), and the verses don’t slack around either; I know every single line of these two songs without ever having tried to memorize them; maybe it’s just because I connect with lines like “you’re moving in elliptical patterns” or “Girlfriend, you know your girlfriend’s drifting away.” 

These two are songs you can still hear today, five years later, if you go to the right places, a document of the mainstream’s absorbing the indiesphere that was 2009 (and if you go to the wrong places, you can still hear songs that sound like “Lisztomania” and “1901”; anthemic hooks over danceable, fast-paced, staccato-stabbing, bass-buzzing music). No, you weren’t a hipster if you were the one spinning these songs at the house party (or Girls, or Animal Collective, or the xx, or Grizzly Bear, or whatever), you were just hip. The real hipsters were the ones that bemoaned Phoenix’s newfound fame and claimed 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That was better – nope. 

Final thought: I saw this band live (for free!) for Grove Music Festival (if you’ve never heard of this music festival, that’s because it takes places in Toronto) during a period of my life where I was near-blind because of some silly eye condition. For the first and only time in those two months, I didn’t care that I couldn’t see anything unless I squinted and if I squinted, I had a headache and couldn’t concentrate. Life is stupid sometimes, and I just want to see colors and hear good music before I go. And if the music I’m listening to is colorful, all the better. The best album of 2009, their best album. Fold it.

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