Phoenix - Alpha Zulu (Distro Title)
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As the late 2010s became the 2020s, Phoenix made music that reflected -- and reacted to -- the tenor of the times. On 2017's Ti Amo, they chose sensuality, joy, and beauty in the face of rising anger and intolerance. Half a decade later, Alpha Zulu felt shaped by the lingering shadows of the COVID-19 global pandemic and, more personally, the 2019 passing of the band's frequent collaborator and friend, producer, and Cassius member Philippe Zdar. Phoenix made three albums with Zdar, including their debut United and 2009's Grammy-winning Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, so the most fitting tribute they could give him was making one of their finest works in his memory. While Ti Amo sometimes favored mood over hooks, Alpha Zulu crystallizes the purest and most direct parts of Phoenix's music. Trading the hazy warmth of their last album for crisp precision suits them well on "Tonight," a brisk collaboration with Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig that channels the anticipation of the evening in its tightly wound guitars and ricocheting vocal interplay. "After Midnight" goes one better, distilling the skill Phoenix have shown at euphoric yet bittersweet pop since "Too Young." For the first time in a long time, however, Alpha Zulu extends the effervescence of their singles over the length of an entire album. As it expresses the difference between being an outsider and someone who stands out, "The Only One" sounds like classic Phoenix. The band add a meta twist to this yearning on "Season 2," where Thomas Mars sounds more boyish than ever as he sings about finding fresh angles on familiar things, whether they're television shows or long-term relationships. It's a theme Phoenix return to on "Artefact," an emotional excavation driven by the skipping, muted rhythm guitars they share with the Strokes (not surprisingly, Alpha Zulu's mix of exuberance and maturity often calls to mind The New Abnormal). Despite the album's concise 35-minute length, the band still find time to experiment, pulling their beats taut and sharpening their synths into blades on the title track and "All Eyes on Me," which mixes harpsichords and hip-hop-tinged rhythms effortlessly. Even when they calm things down, the group don't lose the momentum that makes Alpha Zulu so irresistible. An extended version of "Identical" (which originally appeared in Sofia Coppola's 2020 film On the Rocks) borrows some of New Order's gently insistent, uplifting pulse to end the album with an aptly cinematic feeling of closure and liberation as Mars sings, "Take my advice/Make your mistakes." Phoenix's most immediate work since Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and their most varied since United, Alpha Zulu does indeed range from A to Z, but the band are always in control and the results are frequently brilliant. ~ Heather Phares
Pressed on blue vinyl
Tonight (feat. Ezra Koenig)
The Only One
All Eyes On Me