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THE PHOENIX FOUNDATION

The Phoenix Foundation

Horse Power - 20th Anniversary Edition

    When The Phoenix Foundation’s Horse Power first arrived - 20 years ago - I was compelled to do something I had never done before in my fifteen years as a music reviewer and haven’t done since. I picked up the phone and rang a member of the group. I didn’t know much about them and had never seen them live, but someone told me that Samuel Flynn Scott, one of the group’s two lead singers, could be found at Radio Active, the Wellington alternative station, and as I recall it was Sam who answered the phone. While I was ostensibly ringing to check a few technical details before writing my review for the Listener, I really just needed to tell someone in this band that they had made the best first album I had heard in years.

    Listening to Horse Power now, and knowing what The Phoenix Foundation went on to do - seven albums, numerous soundtracks, EPs and solo discs; as glorious a catalogue of alternative pop as any band has ever produced - I’m still struck by the things that made such an impression me on first hearing back in 2003. Here is a group, all just in their early twenties, with a real grasp of songwriting and all the emotional shades a lyric and melody can convey, and a wide instrumental palette which they employ sometimes lavishly, sometimes sparingly, but always at the service of the song. It is clear already that they have all the qualities of a great band.

    It is also clear that they have understood perhaps the most elusive element of record making: capturing an atmosphere. Some tracks are lush and widescreen, like ‘Let Me Die A Woman’, the album’s first single. Others like ‘The Swarm’ are almost hesitant, as if one is eavesdropping on a rehearsal that’s taking place inside the singer’s head. The cumulative effect is like that of the best albums from anywhere: it takes you a journey and you don’t want to stop until you arrive at the last note.

    “This album makes me think of old girlfriends, single bar heaters and draughty flats’, I wrote at the time, which a Listener subeditor compressed into the cryptic headline ‘The sound of old girlfriends’. Yet in many ways that sums it up. There’s sincerity and awkwardness and self-conscious masculinity all rolled together in songs that deal with the thoughts and feelings of sensitive young men looking for a way to be in the world. In ‘Sister Risk’, the album’s opener, Sam Scott voices the hope ‘that you and me could get it on, casually…‘cause you’re so pretty and I’m such a casual guy’, while everything - from the quaver in his voice to the clumsiness of the word ‘casual’ – belies the bravado.

    But there’s also a playful humour, even in a heart-tugging ballad like ‘Sally’, in which he sings: ’Forget that fella / your colour / you look like Kodachrome / you’ve gone a little yellow…’, while ‘Going Fishing’, Lukasz Buda’s upbeat vocal showpiece, gives a taste of their majestic garage pop, like The Clean with bigger choruses.

    Then there are the outliers. The elegant slow motion of ’St Kevin’ points towards the type of cinematic instrumental that would broaden the scope of their later albums, while ’Bruiser (Miami 4000)’ explodes in a garish arrangement of robotically processed vocals, swishing synths and squiggly metal guitars. Twenty years ago this track struck me as a weird interruption; these days it just seems to make the album bigger, funnier, more rich in its glorious unpredictability.

    The group has always been the sum of its idiosyncratic parts. Scott, Buda and Conrad Wedde first met at Wellington High School in the 1990s and have shared a musical mission ever since. I remember Sam telling me in that first phone conversation that people sometimes mistook him and Luke for brothers. But the multi-instrumental contributions of Wedde and percussionist Will Ricketts add much of the character and detail, while drummer Richie Singleton and bassist Tim Hansen (whose roles in the band have since been occupied by Chris O’Connor and Tom Callwood respectively) provide Horse Power’s sturdy rhythmic foundations. And one mustn’t overlook the sonic contributions of Lee Prebble, Horse Power’s co-producer and recording engineer extraordinaire.

    To mark its anniversary, Horse Power is seeing its first ever vinyl release, and for the first time it will able to be heard as the classic long player that it is. You will even have to turn it over between sides.

    The Phoenix Foundation will also be playing a series of shows in which they perform the album in full and it will be fascinating to hear them re-inhabiting these songs - older, perhaps wiser, certainly as mischievously musical as ever.

    Nick Bollinger, August 2023.


    TRACK LISTING

    A1 Sister Risk
    A2 Let Me Die A Woman
    A3 This Charming Van
    A4 The Swarm
    A5 St Kevin
    B1 Bruiser (Miami 4000)
    B2 Sally
    B3 Celebrate!
    B4 Going Fishing
    B5 Lambs
    B6 Wildlife

    7":
    A
    The Swarm (Live At Helen's 2004)
    B
    Bruiser (Live At WOMAD 2008)

    The Phoenix Foundation

    Friend Ship

      The Phoenix Foundation have lived many lives. From high school distortion addicts to indie folk trippers to masters of motorik dream pop. It’s been five years since their last album, Give Up Your Dreams, but that downtime has been well spent. The New Zealand outfit have been writing, recording, touring with a Symphony Orchestra, creating the acclaimed soundtrack for Taika Waititi's Hunt For The Wilderpeople, building shrines to light, creating scores for VR, producing other bands and, that most lockdown-friendly activity, baking sourdough.

      Slowly, when they could, the six old friends found time to work together in studios, garages, forests, and sheds to put together the concise ten song set of that is Friend Ship. “We took such a long break after Give Up Your Dreams that when we did decide to make a new record we all felt it needed to be in some esoteric sense different,” says co-lead singer Samuel Flynn Scott. “To me that meant returning to something more focused. Honing in on the songs before we went deep into the arrangements and freaky sounds.” And the results reflect this approach too. Whilst Friend Ship, as you would expect, weaves seamlessly between dreamy introspective pop, stretched out grooves and psychedelic rock, it also exists as a collection of masterfully crafted songs.

      Friend Ship features vocals from Nadia Reid, Tiny Ruins’ Hollie Fullbrook and Anita Clark aka Motte plus sumptuous string arrangements performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.


      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: Phoenix Foundation present a widescreen look at the blurred peripheries between dream pop, synthwave and good old fashioned indie music here with their latest outing, Friend Ship'. Beautifully smooth, soaringly melodic and deeply comforting, The Phoenix Foundation have done it again.

      TRACK LISTING

      1. Guru
      2. Miserable Meal (with The NZSO)
      3. Hounds Of Hell (with Nadia Reid)
      4. Decision Dollars (with Hollie Fullbrook)
      5. Transit Of Venus (with The NZSO)
      6. Tranquility (with Hollie Fullbrook)
      7. Landline
      8. Former Glory (with Anita Clark)
      9. My Kitchen Rules
      10. Trem Sketch

      The Phoenix Foundation

      Give Up Your Dreams (Bonus Cassette Edition)

      Indie exclusive bonus cassette ‘Transfatty Acid’ featuring 4 exclusive tracks with every order while stocks last.

      New Zealand based The Phoenix Foundation are all set to return with their new and sixth studio album Give Up Your Dreams. It’s a shrewd and vibrant reminder that in The Phoenix Foundation’s gloriously absurd world of Technicolour pop, it’s the challenges you set yourself that reap the greatest rewards. “Give Up Your Dreams could sound like a defeat but it represents something quite defiant, joyous and celebratory” exclaims co-frontman Samuel Scott of the record’s infectious rhythmic driven sound and optimistic feel.

      After huge success, sales and awards in their homelands it was 2011’s breakthrough album Buffalo and 2013's colossal double album 'Fandango' that saw the band reach a more global audience - 5 star reviews, ‘Later... with Jools Holland’ and Glastonbury followed. Which brings us to Give Up Your Dreams, the sound of a band with the pressure-off, embracing a freedom to explore and hone their sound at their own pace.

      Channelling Fandango’s beauteous side, but this time fuelled by a spit ball of irrepressible energy, Give Up Your Dreams feels like the band’s most contemporary offering yet. With the new addition of drummer Chris O’Connor, the album was written taking its lead from the rhythm section for the very first time; paving the way for an all new creative process. “I was convinced we had to have a different sounding record,” explains Scott’s counterpart singer/guitarist Lukasz Buda. “So we completely removed any trace of acoustic guitar. It was important to leave room for the band to take it somewhere else and make way for a new vitality.”

      Recorded within the pow-wow setting of the band’s Car Club HQ in Wellington, it's the first time the band felt totally comfortable and confident in taking on production duties entirely themselves. “The mood when we were recording was so easy, so cordial,” recalls Scott. Taking a free form approach from Chris and bass guitarist/vocalist Tom Callwood’s experiences in the city’s improv and experimental scene, the album’s cosmic vibes are an upshot of utilising gadgets to shapeshift each sound. Whilst synths were always built into the Foundation’s musical make-up, this time around they’re placed centre stage; “we spent a great deal of time messing with an old Eventide H3000. There would be very few sounds we didn’t try to mess with,” says Scott. “We turned all the cool and interesting sounds up loud so nothing was competing in the mix and you can actually hear the trippy shit.”

      Thematically and lyrically the group typically took inspiration from various of sources. The dazzling title-track is a frank deglamourisation of life on the road spurred on by a conversation with dear friend, collaborator, and fellow New Zealander Lawrence Arabia. The energetic ‘Mountain’ is the ultimate counterpoint; an afro-kraut groove with layers of Television-inspired guitars and dreamscapes about the 'money men' controlling the world. ‘Playing Dead’ nearly didn’t make it further than the cutting room floor but was revived thanks to the photographs in a 1950s Time Life essay on the Ona people of Tierra Del Fuego in southern Chile and their ghost rituals. Elsewhere in 'Jason' Luke sings about both the mother of his children and his ‘band wife’ (Samuel Scott) being struck down with sciatica and being reliant on string painkillers to function, touching on the fear of ageing in the process. Album closer 'Myth' was inspired by the writings of St. Isidore of Seville who in the 19th Century attempted to compile all human knowledge.

      “After 15 years together, this album feels like a total rebirth to us" reveals Buda "it's uplifting feel comes as an act of defiance against all our fears in life.” Take The Phoenix Foundation’s advice then: give up your dreams and good things will happen to you too. Scott concludes “It’s a mantra about letting go, worrying less, and enjoying your reality instead of always wanting more.”

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Andy says: A more muscular, propulsive take on their trademark chiming, Flying Nun style otherness. Tunes still intact!

      TRACK LISTING

      Mountain
      Bob Lennon John Dylan
      Playing Dead
      Prawn
      Jason
      Celestial Bodies
      Silent Orb
      Sunbed
      Give Up Your Dreams
      Myth

      Fandango is the follow up to The Phoenix Foundation’s 2011 album Buffalo. Having made their reputation in New Zealand, Buffalo, their fourth album and the first to be released in Europe, was a critical and commercial hit, and 2011 saw sold out shows across the UK, with a storming set at Glastonbury leading to their UK TV debut on ‘Later... with Jools Holland’.
      Fandango, an expansive, ambitious and gloriously rich 78 minutes, was recorded at four studios over 15-months. From opener ‘Black Mould’ (perhaps the first motorik-influenced song about respiratory problems induced by inadequate building standards in New Zealand) to the 18 minute closing behemoth ‘Friendly Society’ (almost certainly the only psychedelic epic named after the Quaker movement and which features Neil Finn and Bella Union signed Lawrence Arabia on backing vocals), Fandango is un-coy about its lofty ambitions in an age of digital disposability.
       
      The album draws on the band’s collective love of the rock canon (Dr John, Black Sabbath, The Carpenters, Can, Talk TalK, ELO, Television,), but also from some of music’s more obscure corners (Harmonia, The Clean, Aphrodite's Child, Erkin Koray, Baris Manco, Georges Zamfir, Hayao Miyazaki). Check the balladeering yacht rock of ‘Sideways Glance’, the end-of-the-party psych-folk of ‘Modern Rock’, and ‘The Captain’ a 3-minute slice of melancholic melodic joy featuring the vocal talents of co-frontman Lukasz Buda. ‘Thames Soup’ finds the band stretching the pop tropes of mid 70s FM radio to near breaking point while ‘Evolution Did’ channels Sly and Robbie production into an oblique rant on creationism.
       
      The band recorded Fandango partially at Neil Finn’s Roundhead studios, partially at a barn in the depths of the New Zealand countryside (in the middle of winter, fire blazing in the recording studio, cardigans on) but mostly at the band’s own HQ, The Car Club in Wellington. The album was then mixed with the assistance of long-term associate Lee Prebble at The Surgery (earthquake warnings taped to the front door). Lee and the band mined the depths of vintage studio effects in a quest to create new aural chimera.
       
      Let’s leave the final word on Fandango to co-frontman Samuel Flynn Scott:
       
      "Damn the zeitgeist, I still rejoice in the pan-sexual opulence of a double gate-fold vinyl album. Honestly, I'm thoroughly satisfied that we have made 80 minutes of tripped-out pop oddities that pays absolutely no attention to the short form game of contemporary music. This is Test Match music - maybe it's prog or psyche-folk - whatever it is, it's music that we thought about a lot, worked on a lot and cared about in the minutiae."

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Andy says: Phoenix Foundation stretch out in a glorious way. Deep and lush!

      TRACK LISTING

      CD Tracklisting:
      A1. Black Mould
      A2. Modern Rock
      A3. The Captain
      A4. Thames Soup
      A5. Evolution Did
      A6. Inside Me Dead
      A7. Corale

      B1. Supernatural
      B2. Walls
      B3. Morning Riff
      B4. Sideways Glance
      B5. Friendly Society

      LP Tracklisting:
      A1. Black Mould
      A2. Modern Rock
      A3. The Captain
      A4. Thames Soup

      B1. Evolution Did
      B2. Inside Me Dead
      B3. Corale

      C1. Supernatural
      C2. Walls
      C3. Morning Riff
      C4. Sideways Glance

      D1. Friendly Society

      "Buffalo" is the latest album from kaleidoscopic pop group The Phoenix Foundation, whose last album "Happy Ending" (originally released on the legendary Flying Nun label), had critics hailing them as New Zealand’s best kept secret.

      From intelligent and infectiously catchy pop / rock gems, to epic, psychedelic prog rock, "Buffalo" combines sun bleached harmonies, chiming guitars, progressive synth scapes and subliminal rhythms to glorious effect.

      “Surely the most potent band to come out of New Zealand since the far-off days of the Chills… Gorgeous” - The Independent (5 stars)

      “The future, and the past, seldom sounded so delightful” - Q.

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Martin says: While most bands are supernovae, all explosive energy and creativity expended in one brilliant moment before quickly fading, there is another rarer form that reaches maturity more slowly, honing and developing its craft and tending to have a much longer productive life. Auckland’s Phoenix Foundation have taken 10 years to realise the sublime, effortless meander of “Buffalo”, and it’s quickly apparent from the album’s opener, “Eventually” that it’s been well worth the wait. Its drifting, captivating languor sets the scene for the rest of the LP, which manages that difficult balance of being entirely good natured without being trivial and laid back without being soporific. Their engaging psychedelic pop is easily carried by vocal harmonies and hooks that stick, earworms that caress rather than annoy. If you haven’t been reeled in by the gentle glow of “Golden Ship”, which closes the album, then you probably never will be and, frankly, there’s probably something wrong with you.

      TRACK LISTING

      1. Eventually
      2. Buffalo
      3. Flock Of Hearts
      4. Pot
      5. Bitte Bitte
      6. Skeleton
      7. Orange & Mango
      8. Bailey's Beach
      9. Wonton
      10. Golden Ship


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