It must be difficult for a foreign band to break into the American music scene. After all, we are the chief exporter of popular music to the world, even if half of it is terrible. Phoenix, an alternative rock band born in Versailles, France, has been haphazardly skimming the U.S. charts for years, waiting for a chance to break in. It looks like this is their year.
Bassist Deck D'Arcy, vocalist Thomas Mars, and guitarists Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai started playing together in the late 90's, forming ties with French electronica staples like Daft Punk and Air. The four have maintained a steady membership since, opting to change labels frequently instead of members.
On their latest album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the band works flawlessly with one another. Instruments and vocals flow easily amongst the four of them.
Wolfgang is their fourth studio album. Here, the band takes their signature mix of alternative rock and techno-pop and, well, just does more of it. It may seem like a risk, repeating the same model that had failed to bring them into the American spotlight before this year. Ultimately, the gamble has paid off. Already this year, Phoenix
has had two top iTunes singles and a spot on Saturday Night Live
Phoenix's biggest strength has always been, and still is, their ability to build a great song. Almost every track on Wolfgang combines the typical pop-rock song with a building anticipation you'd normally expect from an electronic club hit. This structure works for the openers, “Lisztomaniaâ€ and “1901,â€ but eventually falls stale with the album's closing songs.
Luckily, there's a bit of innovation in between.
“Fencesâ€ stands out as one of the funkiest songs to come out this year. If Deck D'Arcy's basslines don't have you rocking a white-man overbite in the first 45 seconds, you might be dead. “Love Like a Sunset Part Iâ€ returns the band to their French electronic roots, but “Part IIâ€ quickly transitions them back into familiar territory.
Phoenix doesn't necessarily take a unique approach to their music. You could probably take an Apples in Stereo song, mix it over a Daft Punk single and get something similar. Wolfgang isn't incredibly evolved from their past albums, either, but that doesn't mean the album lacks in quality. It's their best yet. They might not have invented electronic pop, but they use it better than anyone else right now.