New Zealand sextet The Phoenix Foundation are a band entirely unafraid of experimentalism and taking themselves on far-flung sonic voyages, and fifth record ’Fandango’ sees them exploring every single facet of their wide and varied sound on an ultra ambitious and daring double album. It sees them capitalise on the success of 2011’s ‘Buffalo’, the first of their records to see a European release; it seems that its success has emboldened them to stretch themselves even more.
‘Fandango’ is something of a throwback; it’s a record steeped in classicism that perfectly fits the concept of the rock double album. It lovingly plays with psych rock and AOR early 70s pop giving it a lovely lustrous sound. Opener ‘Black Mould’ introduces the rich expanse. Slow building and carefully considered, it blossoms wonderfully while singer Samuel Flynn Scott delivers the slightly miserable lyric, “We’re living in darkness in a river of shit.” Fortunately, the remainder is not quite as bleak as that lyric suggests, instead focusing on a somewhat spaced out fantasy world evoked on songs like ‘Supernatural’ and the deadened slow murmur of the beguiling ‘Inside Me Dead’.
Where ‘Fandango’ truly excels is in its clutch of engaging, sweeping AOR pop redolent of the less grandiose stand of progressive rock. The songs here skilfully avoid descending into overwrought grandeur. ‘The Captain’ is the clear highlight, a beautifully evocative piece full of wonder. The band’s co-frontman Lukasz Buda takes on vocals here and his lovely falsetto is particularly sweet set against symphonic strings and fanfares, “Hey dude, don’t be so frightened of your bleeding heart,” he sings while seemingly lost in tripped out fantasy. There are echoes of a more immediate Tame Impala at work here, particularly on the graceful pop sweep of ‘Thames Soup’.
As the album progresses onto its second disc, it becomes even more spaced out and diverse. At times, the attempts to combine more abstract and challenging sounds fail to hold your attention. However, when this works well, as on the excellent ‘Sideways Glance’, it’s a joy. There is a fine balance at work between insidious flutes and strings and a startling rudimentary techno outro.
The final track is the sort of elongated and drawn out epic that is fitting for an album so expansive. Over the course of 18 minutes, ‘Friendly Society’ sees the band indulging in all manner of psych rock tropes. The music morphs seamlessly from sound to sound before settling on a peaceful drone to finish.