It is impossible to talk about Phoenix as a group without mentioning their catalogue of influential Indie music that remains a staple within the genre throughout their more than 20 year history. Cementing themselves as masters of hook-writing and lush synth melodies, they approached a difficult paradox that many veteran groups have to face–how do they give more of what makes Phoenix “phoenix”, while also introducing newness and freshness to their discography? Within Alpha Zulu, Phoenix revives life into indie dance music, thanks to a post COVID need for music that provides a soundtrack to a fun night out ,as well as frontman Thomas Mars’ formula for an upbeat and magnetic chorus. Several songs throughout the album share the shimmery spotlight, while a few of the slower tracks feel intentional, acting as a breather from the dancefloor.
Phoenix steps out as a more calculated, more matured group that understands everything that adds to their unique sound.
The album begins with the self-titled song “Alpha Zulu” which was debuted as the first single prior to the album release in early November. Hearing this song before any other piece introduces listeners into an odd pop odyssey, and while all of the Phoenix traits are front and center, the intro song falls short; feeling like it had taken all of those sounds and melodies and churned them through a mall-pop generator machine. The aggressively-predictable beat and lack of progression leaves more to be desired for the start of the album. While Mars’ lyrics have always leaned heavier into feeling over substance, it leaves the song meandering without a true place on the album, let alone as the first piece.
Transitioning further, we enter what may be one of the brightest stars of the album. Joining Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, “Tonight” is a simple, yet effective song in which the core of the album is held. Koenig lends his catchy yet sharp lyricism to a song that acts as a night of longing for someone through all of the chaos of life. It is completely unbothered by the tear in our social lives that has sustained for the past two years. The music video alludes to this separation, as it features our two frontmen Mars and Koenig trading lyrics as they are physically split apart by the video, with Koenig featured in Tokyo, and Mars featured in Paris. The bouncing energy of this song feels reminiscent of 2010s indie, when both of these acts were at the top of their game, and their collaboration on this track suggests that their hit-making days are not over yet.
Perhaps the most alternative sounding song on this album, “Winter Solstice” achieves a cold depth that has not been heard on past Phoenix records. The synths enchant the listeners, phasing in-and-out from the foreground to the background, accompanied by a heartbeat-like bass beat. The song coats itself in a dark, brooding evocation that guides listeners through chasms of Phoenix’s unfamiliar darker side. In the music video, directed by Warren Fu, Mars is shown lurking on a jagged mountaintop, gazing down on the grayed land below. The isolation within the song is highlighted within the visual accompaniment, in addition to cryptic imagery of stars, eyes, and a mysterious masked figure.
Throughout the album, there are other soaring highlights that refine the body of the collection of songs. “After Midnight” adds a slight 80’s flare, utilizing the rhythm of 808’s and drum machines and a continuous, thumping bass. “Season 2,” the blissful foot-tapping charm, acting as a middle-point to the album. “Artefact” combats a lot of retro-active thinking within its lyrics, as the actions of his past hit Mars in a different vein, now that he is older and changed by the events of his life. The Strokes-esque melody rings familiar to the ear, with a heavier electopop influence, as guitarist Laurent Brancowitz’s riff chimes in at the same melody of the vocals to add depth.
Phoenix’s discography consistently provides its fans with intrigue and enjoyment of the life around them.
In Alpha Zulu’s sadder moments, it contemplates the mistakes made at a younger age and chooses to press on, becoming all the wiser. In its happier moments, it is simply enchanted by the surrounding world and can’t help but romanticize life to its fullest extent. With a legendary collaboration to please just about every Indie head, it reminisces fondly of the band’s sound and image from the past, and adds depth and layers to the youthful face. Phoenix updates itself and returns in this album with solid songwriting, production, and good times. At the core, life is always a bit brighter when a Phoenix song is playing, and this album provides no exceptions.
Photography by: Sean Rider
Disclaimer: All views presented in this album review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of Top Shelf Music.