When it was announced that French band Phoenix would be making a stop in Manila, I swear, there was a collective, almost orgasmic, gasp from indie kids everywhere. Maybe it’s a bit of a “finally, we get a concert for us!” kind of gasp. Maybe it’s an “oh my God they’re going here!” gasp. It is a bit unexpected, but at the same time it is. Phoenix is one of the biggest bands in the world right now: they’ve certainly gone a long way from their decidedly left of center origins in Versailles. From being one of the more (arguably) chilled acts coming out of France, they are now filling arenas with their ethereal take on indie pop. And, once again, I am not going to be there. So here’s a crash course, in usual earthings! tradition. [NB]
“Playground Love” by Air | The band that would be Phoenix was formed in the early 90s, with a couple of jam sessions from vocalist Thomas Mars, bassist Deck d’Arcy and guitarist Chris Mazzalai. (The band’s fourth member, guitarist/keyboardist Laurent Brancowitz, would join in 1995, when his band folded up. The other two members of that band would become Daft Punk.) By 1997, they would sign up with Source Records, where they became the backing band for electronica duo Air. Yep, that partly explains the Air track. This song in particular – released in 1999, from the soundtrack of The Virgin Suicides – features Thomas in vocals, under the pseudonym Gordon Tracks. He would soon be married to the film’s director, Sofia Coppola.
“Everything is Everything” by Phoenix | Phoenix would release their debut album, United, in 2000; it was chilled yet dancy, evidenced by singles such as “Too Young” (also used in a Coppola film) and “If I Ever Feel Better”. (This era also saw them release “Heatwave”, which, well, should sound familiar to those in high school in the early-00s.) Their follow-up, 2004’s Alphabetical, would be a bigger success, with this song particularly getting some airplay in the United States. They would tour the country (and Europe) on the back of that record; it would also inform their next album, 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That.
“Long Distance Call” by Phoenix | I discovered Phoenix through this song, while flipping through channels, landing on what was them MTV Philippines, and hearing this trippy, chilled, catchy ditty from what turned out to be a bunch of Frenchmen. This was my indie-impressionable phase in college; it’s a surprise I’m not going gaga to watch them tonight. Anyway, It’s Never Been Like That saw a response similar to Alphabetical (as well as a pretty good Paramore cover of this song) but up to this point they’re still mostly cult indie darlings. Phoenix would, arguably, only really explode with their fourth album, 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
“Fences” by Phoenix | There’s something with Wolfgang‘s first single, “1901”, that just captured the imagination. Was it the football montage? Was it the Cadillac ad? Was it Birdy’s (later) cover? Whatever it is, that song (and the single that followed it, the now aptly-named “Lizstomania”) brought Phoenix to places no one thought they would. It is, also, the point when Phoenix’s sound felt better formed, toeing the line between the bed and the dance floor nicely. And then there’s the Grammy they won for this album, the Best Alternative Music Album award in 2010, just beating folks like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and alternative granddaddies David Byrne and Brian Eno. (This song is Anna‘s suggestion: it’s her favorite on the album, and I would have otherwise posted “1901”.)
“S.O.S. in Bel Air” by Phoenix | And that brings us to last year, and to the huge hype when they released their drowning-in-synth album, Bankrupt! “Entertainment”, the album’s first single, was similarly stuck in everybody’s heads (even if it took me a while to warm to its very Oriental sound). The album hit number four on the Billboard charts, but it’s not nominated for a Grammy this year, like you guys mind, eh? Phoenix is bigger than before, and now they’re touring the world, which explains why, in an unusual twist of fate for a country otherwise averse to indie, we have Phoenix performing, tonight at the World Trade Center. Be on time, the organizers (who I won’t name again) often say.