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What makes a good nineteen-track album from the Madison eclectic, indie rock group Phox? A nineteen-track album that you can listen to in its entirety without having to hit the “next” button or without realizing that each song is different one than before. Friendship (2012) from Phox does just that and you can attribute the album’s “seamless” quality to the unique combination of songs and shorter musical arrangements that tie everything together quite nicely.
The seven-piece Phox, originally from Baraboo, is growing exponentially in popularity recently, not only in Madison (selling out the High Noon Saloon), but also in all other parts of the country. The band just made the trip down to Austin, Texas for the music industry’s biggest conference and festival , South by Southwest, last week and showed what they’re made of. Majestic Madison and First Avenue in Minneapolis put together a day party at the festival to showcase all the great music the Midwest area has to offer and Phox was on the top of the bill. This trip to SXSW can only mean good things for the band and you can’t help but get the sense that they are going big places with their eccentric and experimental indie music.
Friendship starts off with some edited recording chatter, a common occurrence on the album, and gives off a great continuous-story vibe. This is no average album and is performed, edited, and arranged in a tight, fun final product that will keep you coming back for more.
Track two, “Shrinking Violets,” begins simply with Monica Martin’s crystal clear vocals and builds up into a huge arrangement of horns, synths, and other instrumentation. The track is almost five minutes long and does a great job of showcasing the lead singer’s beautiful voice, proving that Phox can go from quiet to loud all in the same track. A personal favorite, “Clubs and Spades”, kicks off with a reverb-heavy banjo introduction. Slide guitar with an explosion of drums creates a sound similar to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero or Wilco. The lyrics of the track give off a much darker vibe than the music does: “I’ll be fine. I’ve taken deeper bullets to the chest. It’s too damn late“.
The tracks “Kingfisher” and “Garden of the Night” both have a upbeat, jazzy feel that help liven up the album and make you want to move around while smiling. There are many different instruments throughout the album and you begin to wonder what these guys can’t play. The last full song of Frienship, “Laura”, wraps things up with a bang. Martin’s lyrics on the chorus of the song, “You can try and hide away from all the things that people say. That you need to be OK but you’ll just stay the same” are complimented perfectly with just the right amount of reverb and effects. The repeating, ever-building chorus and instrumentation of the song leave a lasting impression and makes it easy to understand why everyone is going crazy about Phox.
Random recorded sounds (even an effects-drenched Aaron Rodgers bite) not only help to mesh all the excellently arranged songs together but give the album and indie band a fun, unique vibe that is definitely worth checking out. You can listen to Friendship on the band’s Bandcamp page and there are ample opportunities to catch them live as they play in the Madison area quite often.
Phox recently came out with a new video EP entitled Confetti, which you can enjoy on YouTube while seeing what other unique music this up-and-coming Madison band has up its sleeve.