The kings of indie-pop return! 2022 saw the release of French four-piece Phoenix’s 7th record: ‘Alpha Zulu’. The Versailles native’s latest record bore all of the warm synths, muted guitar licks, rhythmic beats, and sonic interplay which defined alternative rock in the 2000s. ‘Alpha Zulu’ saw Phoenix return closest to the formula of their breakthrough ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ since its release in 2009. The aforementioned album was a categorically genre-defining masterpiece, released to the highest of critical acclaim- winning the ‘Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album’ in 2010. Phoenix’s brand of pop simplicity, layered and blended to create stylish disco-pop dance scores, has influenced many indie-pop artists since.
‘Alpha Zulu’ wasn’t recorded in a regular studio- it wasn’t even recorded in a pre-existing music studio at all! In 2020 Thomas, Deck, Chris, and Branco locked down at the ‘Musée des Arts décoratifs’- situated within the world famous ‘Louvre Palace’. Front-man Thomas Mars tells NME of his surprise and excitement at his band’s temporary home, commenting on its significance, “somehow we get to build our studio here… it’s like if you ask me if you’ve ever driven a car before- and we have a Rolls Royce now”. The new scenery proved inspirational for the band; they claim to have finished most of the album within 10 days of starting it!
After 4 singles, it was on Friday 4th November, when the 7th installment into the Phoenix discography was dropped. Their lockdown efforts concluded in 36 minutes, packed full of the French band’s unfaltering indie flair. Phoenix -dependable as always- created another beautiful record, critics lapped up ‘Alpha Zulu’ with swathes of rave reviews and near-universal acclaim. Fans were certainly not left disappointed; 5 years on from their last fix: ‘Ti Amo’.
However, I won’t be focusing on the album as a whole (as spectacular as it was), but more on the 3rd single released, track number 2 on the track listing, and my favorite song released in 2022: ‘Tonight-ft Ezra Koenig’. Picture a late 00’s-early 10’s house party, youthful minds in the prime of their lives, drink in hand, indie mix on, disco lights, yearning for that person across the room- oh how you’d love to dance with them. Two Door Cinema Club, Franz Ferdinand, The Strokes, and Arctic Monkeys join you in your plight, they too yearn for what you want- love, lust, and discovery- this is the music of your youth. How you wish you could stay in this bubble forever; with mistakes to make, nothing to regret, and your whole life on your horizon. You are older now, made some mistakes, and chased your dreams, did you achieve them? Was life everything you wanted it to be? You hear ‘Tonight’ on the radio, it evokes the nostalgia of those days, and makes you feel what ‘1901’ and ‘Lisztomania’ did in yesteryear, a time capsule dug up from 2010 when ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ reigned supreme. Wasn’t it all simpler then?
Everything in this song, from songwriting to mixing, and instrumental choices, is so quintessentially Phoenix. A simple drum-machine beat starts out this tune, with another slowly building machine beat blossoming from behind it, and at its climax, giving rise to the main melody of the song- a funky bass riff played by Deck d’Arcy, full of infectious danceability. Brothers on guitar: Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz, chime in with smart guitar parts, nudging in and jousting each other -as siblings do- for as much impact as possible on the track. ‘Tonight’ is mixed in a classic phoenix manner, the barebones of each instrument can be heard individually, and don’t fall victim to being blended into a homogenous sound, like so many other mixes today. Instead, all noises are layered together in a feat of complex sonic mastery- a brilliant decision that allows the song to dance and sing as it does. Thomas Mars’s smart vocals are shared by Ezra Koenig; a perfect choice for the feel of this track and Phoenix’s first-ever feature. Koenig’s band ‘Vampire Weekend’ shone alongside Phoenix from across the pond; both having a huge share of the indie-rock scene of the time, making an indelible mark on the genre together. Mars and Koenig take turns on vocals from the second verse onward; they establish a conversational dialogue between two voices in the same head- constantly questioning what-ifs and has-beens. Whatever has happened or is yet to happen- tonight, they just want us to ‘roll with’ them. That late 2000’s indie-pop-disco nostalgia is completed in the chorus with a monumental synth sound; warm and bright tones beckon us into the chorus- reminiscent of how they did in ‘1901’, 13 years ago.
Whether it brings you back to your best years, or it becomes an anthem of your prime, ‘Tonight’ is a bouncy and vivacious throwback that avoids repetition by bringing a youthfulness of its own- proving that although the body may age, music remains young forever!
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