Justin Matthews (guitar/vocals), Rich Schneider (drums/synths/samples) and Frank Swarm (guitar/vocals) are PHX. Matthews and Schneider have been loosely playing together since 1996. Swarm later came on board to fill out the rest of the lineup. They recently released Ex Cinera.
Before we get into the music we need to get a little into the production and recording quality. There are a lot of high frequencies happening with this recording (especially the guitars). So much so that it's nearly impossible to crank this music without your ears immediately ringing. I would have liked to hear a little more mid-range and low end and some of the higher frequencies shaved off. That being said the lo-fi nature of the recording works quite well and I enjoyed the tasteful use of reverb and balance.
Musically, I was most impressed by the band's sound. It’s a bit scattered at times but when the band melds genres and gets it right it’s very impressive. I was reminded of disparate artists from NIN to No Age.
The album is on the long side with twelve fleshed out songs. Their music has a lot of punk influence. Punk albums are notoriously known for being relatively short. I feel like this album may have benefited from a bit more brevity. Nine or ten songs may have been a little more powerful.
They open with “Blackout” which is an aggressive song with a good amount of distortion and hard-hitting drums. The best part on this song is where the band pulls off something unexpected. Take for instance the two-minute mark on ”Blackout.” The band unexpectedly goes into an industrial, ambient section. This was a great move and got my attention.
It is these moments that are scattered on the LP that make it worthwhile, from the Primal Scream-esque hip-hop sounding “Broken Halo” to the slower moving yet captivating “Homeostasis.” The conventional songs that more or less stick to one style aren’t as effective.
I can say it almost never works when a band jumps from genre to genre on an album. For example one song sounds like reggae the other is R&B. What does work is when bands seamlessly merge styles like PHX has done with some success .
Ex Cinera is far from perfect and it takes some effort but there are certainly some rewards for those who are willing to take the journey
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