“Pop” is such a funny phrase today. Rooted in the idea of “popular” music, that claim really doesn’t match the very general use of the term today. While big acts on “popular music” radio still fit the word, many of these songs stem from different areas: R&B, Rock and Rap especially. Yet “pop” also gets thrown to indie groups, meeting a sort of lighter, bubblegum-esque feel.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix fits squarely into this oxymoronic notion of indie pop. Jangly guitars abound on this release with Phoenix even dipping into Shins territory on a multiple occasions. Leadoff track “Lisztomania” is a prime example: the chorus is bright and uplifting with the tight-yet-flowing guitars.
While Wolfgang could find success through guitars alone, the inclusion of electronics push this release past the output of other pop groups. “1901” combines the guitar effort of an R.E.M. song with a series of synthetic sounds to from an alternate guitar (of sorts) and a memorable tune.
Phoenix furthers their ambitions with the peculiar mid-album combo of “Love Like a Sunset Parts I and II.” Placed as a counterpoint to the bright pop of earlier tracks, the exploratory, near-ambient style is initially jarring. But upon further listen, it’s clear that Phoenix gets it right: the pacing is fantastic and offers more room to flex their electronic muscles.
The latter half of the album also holds up well with repeated listens. “Countdown” starts slow and builds up and through various phrases, with a controlled drum effort driving the tempo.
Of course, this says nothing of the fine vocal work. On par with the Shins throughout, the falsetto of the lead Phoenix singer is superb. Emoting when necessary but projecting constantly, the great guitar and electronic work would be different without the singing.
As a whole, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix brings no real weak points to the table, all while displaying great pop sensibility in a musically mature way. Phoenix has probably released the first great pop album of the summer – even if it never sells much.