By Tom Reardon, November 2019 Issue.
There is always a
bit of trepidation when reviewing Phoenix bands, at least for me. As a Phoenix
musician, as well, I empathize a bit too much with my fellow musicians but I
also feel the writer’s responsibility to share my truth so I straddle a fence
that is sometimes made of cotton candy, and sometimes it is made of rusty, yet
sharp, barbwire. Each of these artists and bands have a great career ahead of
them and for all three I have reviewed, I truly believe, they have what it
takes to be future hall of famers.
Emby Alexander – Cactus Candy
On Cactus Candy,
which is the latest release by Emby Alexander, I feel like the proverbial fence
to straddle here is made of wool. It’s warm and a great thing to have when you
need it, but there are times when it just doesn’t quite fit. On one hand, I
really like the myriad of influences I hear on Cactus Candy. I hear
obvious nods to Morrissey, who might not be the best person to align yourself
right now, but I still love 95% of his music, especially his work with the Smiths.
I also hear Imperial Teen, too, which is really special to me in so many ways,
but … I also hear an effort that does not live up to the high heights I think
it was meant to live up to when Emby Alexander went into the studio and
recorded this lush, but flawed album. It reaches for things it can’t quite
grab, yet the talent is there and when it hits, it really hits hard. I enjoy
“No Makeup” and “Bright Wound” completely and utterly. They are like cashmere, which is a wonderful
fabric, but it also comes with a price for both the consumer and the goat and
can get easily snagged when sitting on the fence.
Paper Foxes – Popular Confessions
I’m old, at least
when it comes to my ability to sniff out a killer early ‘80s post-punk riff and
by post-punk I mean the music that came out in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s
that pre-dates “alternative” music and snuggles up nicely with “new wave.”
Paper Foxes haven’t been around since the ‘80s and I’m guessing some of the
members may not have even been alive when their musical forefathers and mothers
were cranking out the type of jams that permeate Popular Confessions,
but the spirit of the era is alive and well on this new release from the
Phoenix band. “Dance of the Dead” beautifully marries the old, think Oingo
Boingo, and the relatively new, think Bloc Party. It’s the second track on the
record and it really shines from start to finish, straddling a fence made of
danceable bass madness and hook-laden vocals that make you want to sing along
before you even know the words. Like the musical middle child it is, “Pop
Confessions” is probably well-suited for just being allowed to go through life
unnoticed and if any of the songs on Popular Confessions are “filler” this is
the one. By the time you get to the adventurous “Get Off the Wall,” though, all
sins are forgiven and the record finishes strong.
Rising Sun Daughter –I See Jane
If you don’t fall in love with Grace Rolland a little bit after the first forty seconds of her first Rising Sun Daughter EP, I See Jane, then you’re straddling the wrong fence entirely. The Mesa-born-and-bred singer who is known for her work in Run Boy Run, hits all the right notes, pun intended, on this five-song puller of heart strings. Rolland plays the majority of the instruments on this record and, at least for a bass player like me who tries to play guitar every once in a while, it is just unfair that someone can be so proficient on multiple instruments and sing like a goddamn angel. While her previous work fit nicely in the Americana genre, I See Jane shows a breadth of influence that portends great things to come for this talented young lady. Since this month I’m comparing our local talent to famous folks, I’d have to say that Rolland’s work here echoes, on occasion, Sarah McLaughlin, Brandi Carlile, and even a smidge of Laurie Anderson’s amazing instrumentation. Fans of Rolland’s earlier work may naturally gravitate to “Blackberry Bramble” but for my money, “I See Jane” and “Dark Highways” are the real revelations here.