Phoenix Foundation – Buffalo

January 01, 1970

(Memphis Industries)


The Phoenix Foundations builds
vast psychedelic castles in the air, luminous washes of sound floating past
lazily like the least threatening variety of cumulus clouds. Though from New
Zealand, this foursome has little in common with Dunedin lo-fi. Instead they
polish strummy daydreams into day-glo visions, sounding more like Mercury Rev
or Spaceman 3 than Flying Nun.


The Phoenix Foundation may be
unknown here, but they’re pretty big in New Zealand. Three previous albums have
all garnered critical acclaim and awards in their native country, and Pegasus, their 2005 sophomore effort,
went gold. Buffalo, their fourth, won
them a NZ Music Award for Best Group, as well as nominations for Best Album,
Best Single and Best Music Video.  They
are not exactly a rec room project in their native country – and that, perhaps,
accounts for the extremely professional – occasionally too professional – way
in which Buffalo has been put together.


“Buffalo,” the single, is the
clear centerpiece here,  building from a luminous,
repetitive guitar riff into the most expansive kind of pop. There’s some kind
of narrative about the buffalo and life at the bottom of the sea, but none of
that matters in the least. What matters is the inexorable lift in the chorus,
the “whoo-ooo  ooo-ooos” and the “I am
the buffalo” that loft this track skyward.


Yet other songs seem a little
flyweight, pleasant only in a silly way. There’s a jaunty, giddy, slightly
calculated euphoria in songs like “Bitte Bitte” or “Orange and Mango” that
palls over repeat listens. Yet just when you’re writing these songs off, the
band introduces a something striking, in musical terms. The eerie slides that
float through giddy “Bitte Bitte,” the space noise-y instrumental break in
Nilsson-esque “Orange and Mango” are just enough to hold your attention and
turn flyaway pop into something more interesting.


Even so, the cuts that work best
are the ones that cut down on the sugar, open up song the song structures and
let the unexpected happen. “Golden Ship,” the six-minute closer, is a slow spin
through psychedelia, recalling Pink Floyd and the Flaming Lips in the way it
turns melody into swirling atmospheres and bliss.


If anything, Phoenix Foundation
lets its way with a hook get in the way on this album, opting for the enjoyable
– but often predictable – structures of pure pop.  Super clean production reinforces the idea
that this is disposable, highly marketable music, rather than art. Still every
once in a while, these guys slip the leash, and that makes all the difference.


DOWNLOAD: “Buffalo,” “Golden Ship” JENNIFER KELLY



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