The Phoenix Foundation have made a career out of taking the scenic route in their music where other bands would strive to be as direct as possible.
Their songs are accessible yet beautifully layered creations that make full use of the collective's revolving-door line up. Now closing in on nearly two decades of existence, the six-piece have seen members come and go with regularity, but have never let inter-band relations get in the way of the music. That flexibility is part of why they've stayed together, of course - their last outing, 2013's ambitious double album 'Fandango' found the band moving in many different directions at once. It seemed like the natural conclusion of something, and their latest effort is, well, a phoenix-like rebirth.
Quite a lot of this is to do with the presence of new drummer Chris O'Connor, who replaced Richie Singleton mid-way through the 'Fandango' sessions, but now has the opportunity to make his mark on the band; and make it he does. 'Give Up Your Dreams' is driven by his partnership with bassist Tim Callwood, and the results are far more energetic than any album bearing such a downer title should be. Despite the title track being a frank acknowledgement of the realities of being on tour and that being in a band is often far removed from the ideal, the phrase is actually positive: "a mantra about letting go, worrying less, and enjoying your reality instead of always wanting more", in the words of co-frontman Samuel Flynn Scott.
The Phoenix Foundation could certainly be forgiven for resting on their laurels after all the doors 'Fandango' opened for them, but they do nothing of the sort. Songs like 'Bob Lennon John Dylan' and 'Mountain' sound like the work of a completely revitalised outfit; the latter even features exuberant whooping and hollering that suggests they're having an absolute blast making music together. 'Playing Dead' features an increased focus on synths and electronic rhythms, its focus on repetition and disarmingly straightforward chorus ensuring it won't be easy to dislodge from your brain once heard. For those in need of more melody, meanwhile, 'Celestial Bodies' will fit the bill, its well-placed harmonies and busy drumming laying the foundations for what's arguably the highlight of the record.
"The mood when we were recording was so easy, so cordial," Scott says of the process of making the album, and it shows. There's no acoustic guitar to be heard anywhere, either; it's been a staple of the band's sound for so long, but its absence is barely noticeable. In choosing to move down a more percussive path, the Phoenix Foundation set themselves a challenge quite different than those they had previously faced. 80-minute double albums are usually tough to follow, but they've chosen to reconnect with the spirit of the band rather than try to top 'Fandango' in a self-conscious manner, and in doing so have redefined themselves. It'll be interesting to see where they go from here.
Words: Gareth O'Malley
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