Alternative music reviews

Phideaux Xavier

313 May 2006

As always, a beautifully recorded and produced CD with every instrument clearly defined and Phideaux's delicious voice crystal clear so you can hear all those inflections. Very entertaining booklet with it as well.

I can hardly deny loving Have You Hugged Your Robot, as I have mentioned it in my blog - what a great chord sequence (in-joke, because I once wrote a song with the same sequence). With a simple descending riff like that, you can play around and Phideaux creates a mighty Sci-Fi epic. You know sometimes you are playing music in the car and a song comes on that makes you bop around and your foot presses on the accelerator until you realise after three minutes that you are way over the speed limit. Some songs just make you smile and feel good - Robot is one of those.

I love the way that Sick Of Me adds a female singer as a foil to Phideaux's voice and the dynamic variation is simply inspirational. It's at this point I have suddenly realised that he has totally conquered my reservations about keyboard based music. At no point on any of his albums has that little voice in my head said "but it doesn't have the dynamics of a guitar" - keyboards always produce some passages of leaden, clumsy rhythm at some point in an album. I do like a lot of keyboard based music (after all one of musical Gods is Peter Hammill), but I can't think of anyone but Phideaux that has that organic development of a song normally reserved for guitars. Sounds like an esoteric point? Not to me, that is a massive realisation. Even so, I haven't found this album quite as satisfying as the previous two main albums (Ghost Story and Fiendish) but the magic of Phideaux is that you can just carry on listening. My best mate announced to me at Christmas that he now liked Ghost Story best of all - but he didn't like it when I first played it to him about 22 months ago. So I'll re-review 313 in two years.

Sometimes I miss early David Bowie. I loved his music so much up to Diamond dogs but I find it difficult to listen to those albums except as nostalgia becase they have dated a bit (good nostalgia but just not particularly relevant today). I have finally figured out why I like Phideaux so much, he gives me a modern take on that post-psychedlic era. He is not afraid to use fantasy, science fiction, even excess and exaggeration. The spirit is from an earlier more innocent age when you could be playful, rather than the more serious post-punk seriousness that permeates most alternative music. So here we have another breath of fresh air to enchant me and the growing band of Phideaux's fans.

 
Chupacabras Feb 2006

This isn't an 'official' Phideaux release. This is a collection of songs that don't fit easily into his current sequence of work. Phideaux wrote to meabout a totally over the top prog-rock epic called "Chupacabras" about the life of the so called "puerto rican goat sucker" creature. Clocking in at over 20 minutes, the piece would dominate any album, and so it appears on this semi-official release. Chupacabras begins with the deliberation of a Peter Hammill epic and then a load of new elements get thrown in: female vocals, melodic guitar solos, changes in rhythm, bubbly synth, steel guitar, flute. Each element is introduced with care and fits in naturally. There's a lightness of touch even when Phideaux is at his most Prog and you always welcome his expressive voice. Now, I grew up in the 70s and I've listened to a good many 20 minute songs but Chupacabras beats what I can remember by a mile because it doesn't become tired at any point.

The other tracks are good too, but a bit overshadowed by the epic. The last track Titan is about when I came out of my trance and it wrapped everything up very nicely. So, a 70s prog epic? Not really, this isn't a retreading of old footprints but a true maverick making something new yet familiar.

 
Ghost Story Apr 2004

The new album from Phideaux is even better than the last. It has the same great songs and performances but it sounds much more modern in production and instrumentation. I still hear 70's stuff in it - it's like Space Oddity and Man Who Sold The World but played the way Bowie would want it to sound now. Added to that is Phideaux's unique approach to songs, a great voice and some spacey guitar on top as well. There just isn't anybody else playing music like this today. Unique and very special.

Fiendish Nov 2003

An album from LA based Phideaux through his own Bloodfish Records. I canít argue with the description of 'spacey folk rock'. There are certain elements of late 60s and early 70s folky English music. His voice has a twang that is reminiscent of Al Stewart (although Phideaux hasn't ever heard his music) and anyone who remembers that twang will know what a recommendation that is. When I moved house earlier this year, the song I played when I had set up the stereo was Peter Hammill's The Tower - that shows I've never quite left the 70s behind. However, I wouldn't play it to anyone younger because there are elements of the music that would grate to the modern ear. But Phideaux Xavier has updated the sound so that it sounds great today Ė the crystal-clear production with some great guitar work adds to the concentration on vocal clarity and lyrical concerns.

The songs are very up-front Ė you wonít miss a word of the lyrics or a note of the music. It is like someone grabbing you by the lapels of your jacket and telling you a story. When the female vocals come to prominence it is a bit like Johnny Dowd's more recent work (you know, Motherís Little Helper). The only recent recording I can compare this to is the Swedish-born but Brighton-based Frock I reviewed last year. It is retro, although I donít mean retro in a derogatory sense Ė we have The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Libertines who are all taking sound and inspiration from the wealth of previous music available to us now. There are moments of excess, such as the track Soundblast that is like Peter Hammill taking some of the theatricality of Bowie's Cygnet Committee or Diamond Dogs but it recovers well and returns to the personal.

If this sounds interesting to you then contact phideaux@bloodfish.com and he will send you a copy for free (a donation of shipping costs would be nice). He has a hell of a voice and writes great songs and orchestrates them brilliantly. I'm not recommending this record to the Indie audience, this doesn't sit in the same arena as The Distillers or The Cooper Temple Clause. What is Indie is that someone is producing music of such quality with no regard to fashion.


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