What Phoenix does better than just about any current band is combine the euphoria of a raucous rock ‘n’ roll show with the surgical exactitude of studio-crafted dance music. Mixing the obstreperousness of old-fashioned guitar/bass/drums/keys grooves with hyper-precise digital calibration, this supremely, this supremely French foursome remains the epitome of rock-disco dialectic.
Their new one picks up where 2009′s mainstream breakthrough Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix left off, maintaining that album’s crowd-pleasing formula while accentuating the group’s gentle waywardness. The lyrics, for example, are often nonsensical: “Victory lap, formal with feathery eyes/ Dating vendetta win small spray pesticide” goes a typical near-rhyme in the title track, an abstracted take on EDM’s slow-burning trance. It further abstracts the build-up into ambient doodles over muted four-four thumping, accentuates the breakdown via oscillating Phillip Glass-like synths, and climaxes with a psychedelic folk-rock coda. This is and the similarly spaced-out verses of “Bourgeois” are clearly what the band had on its mind when it announced that Bankrupt! would be more experimental.
Otherwise, though, it’s just as generous with its hooks and anxiously-happy propulsion as any Phoenix number: “Entertainment” storms the gates with chiming “Turning Japanese” synths that reappear throughout the album; “The Real Thing” holds back its catchiest bits until near the end, when the cut practically levitates; “S.O.S. in Bel Air” similarly affirms the band’s ever-increasing dynamic command. The peaks, of which there are many, are bombastic, while the restrained parts offer woozy respite; one is self-descriptively called “Chloroform.” Mostly, though, there’s pleasure on top of pleasure, sweat mixed with digital mathematics, both equally generous.