He made the music behind one of your favorite podcasts; now he tries his hand at indie pop.Self-Released, 2017
7.7 / 10
Listeners familiar with the Serial Podcast already know the music of Mark Henry Phillips, aka Sono Oto. Phillips did the score for Serial’s first season; his quirky yet seemingly innocent music drawing you into a murder mystery. His debut album as Sono Oto is one that he’s worked on for six years. No doubt Phillips used his six years to fine tune this debut properly. It feels meticulously crafted. Still, six years is a long time. However, there’s another story as to why we’re just now getting it.
Inheritance deals with Phillips’ estranged relationship with his father, who passed away from lung cancer. It turns out that Phillips’ father also shared an estranged relationship with his own father. He made this discovery through letters his father had written. The titular “inheritance” is the baggage seemingly passed down to Phillips. Its pain shapes the songs of Sono Oto’s debut. Yet, the album’s melancholy never detracts from the song’s pop melodies.
Obviously Phillips’ influences derive from the ‘60s and ‘70s Britpop made by bands like The Beatles and The Kinks. Elliot Smith is a suitably more modern comparison. Much like Smith, Phillips’ voice carries his lyrics with a gentle cradle. However, don’t misconstrue this to mean quiet. Phillip’s voice never disappears, even when his arrangements threaten to overtake everything. His skills as a composer are on full display. Each song establishes itself as something different from the pack.
On “Now I Know”, Phillips instills a soulful, funky charm reminiscent of Sam Cooke. His storytelling ability also stands out in the song, as he recalls a moment trying to avoid a former flame at a party. It’s a former flame, who he still happens to be in love with. On the heartfelt “Didn’t Have The Time” (maybe about Phillips’ father), he layers his vocals to evoke the Beach Boys at their most introspective.
Standing apart as Inheritance‘s most bare song is “Lies”. The song’s acoustic melody feels very “Dust In The Wind”, as Phillips remembers his father. Although Inheritance comes from a deeply personal place, listeners can inherit these songs to fit their own narratives. And maybe in the process, they’ll inherit Sono Oto as one of their favorite new artists.