The Phoenix Foundation write a great album and bury it in two discs worth of material.
Memphis Industries, 2013
6.8 / 10
New Zealand’s The Phoenix Foundation have been on the brink of breaking through into the US consciousness for a decade now. The band have made a career of applying their own psychedelic tendencies to traditional pop formats, and in many ways, they’re not too different from STRFKR, the Flaming Lips circa Yoshimi…, or late-era My Morning Jacket. The Phoenix Foundation, like the aforementioned bands, have tried to strike a balance between accessibility and the-weird-stuff — it’s fine to experiment as long as its not at the cost of the audience. Previous TPF releases have hovered around the 45-minute mark, with only Happy Ending stretching out to 52 minutes. The band’s fifth album, however, Fandango is longer than their previous record by nearly 25 minutes; it’s a double album, attempted-magnum-opus that spans 12 tracks and 77 minutes.
Earlier this year, Dirty Beaches’ Drifters/Love is the Devil released a double album longer than Fandango that never managed to outwear its welcome or even sound excessive. This was accomplished by essentially creating two separate albums, each with its own theme and sound, that complement one another. The only thing that separates the two discs here on Fandango is that one has a 17-minute track, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Most of Fandango features a strong rhythm section carrying any given song forward while the guitars and keys have opportunities to space out. The truly spacey moments are among the best on the album – the 7 and a half-minute instrumental “Corale” morphs from an acoustic-based ditty to a Pink Floyd (Meddle era) jam. Other tracks, like “Black Mould”, “The Captain”, or “Sideways Glance” work purely because of their groove.
The 17-minute track, “Friendly Society”, perfectly encapsulates everything that is right and everything that is wrong with Fandango. Every second of “Friendly Society” crawls by, and it’s quite obviously just a loose compilation of separate jams that the band has weaved together. The song is basically a catalog of ideas – ideas that weren’t quite good enough to refine into their own standalone song to appear on the album. The point of “Friendly Society” is to be excessive, to be massive, to be sprawling and grandiose. In this regard, “Friendly Society” and Fandango mirror one another – sure, the album is sprawling, but at the end of the day, it’s just a loose collection of ideas.
Fandango has plenty of bright spots, but it ultimately doesn’t have enough of them to justify two discs’ worth of material. This kind of record is incredibly frustrating because it could easily become a better album by shaving off an extra 15-20 minutes. “Black Mould,” “Thames Soup,” and “Supernatural” have catchy, grooving melodies, but they could have stood to lose a minute or two from their individual runtimes. There’s a good album, even a great album, in Fandango, but as it stands now, it’s just downright exhausting. The individual songs are long enough that, if all you’re doing is paying attention to the music, you’ll be left wondering how much time is exactly left on this thing. If, however, you just plan to listen to something while you work, the slick, spacey jams of Fandango can be appealing. The band takes its time, and in its patience, they find some great songs – let’s just hope that next time they squeeze that goodness into one album instead of stringing it across two.
Oh, and by now, just to clarify, this is not the band that released 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus The Phoenix Foundation. Whew, I’ve been sitting on that joke for some time now.