On the strange carousel that is the modern city, there is potential for a new sublime. Submerged as many are in the dense synthetic realm of fashion model smiles and hospital white supermarkets, we can reflect. Reflect as a mountaineer would; looking down upon nature and finding joy in his/her own insignificance. What exactly are we looking down on now? Well, that’s a tricky one but Phobophobes have made it their business to explore further.
Like all soldiers, Phobophobes have been changed since the battleground of their first album: Miniature World. Still haunting their new single though, is the sadomasochistic tangle of Halloween organ and all other rock utensils – vocals included – charging to heavy euphoria.
Much like the final track of their debut album, ‘Give Me Flowers Give Me Dirt’, latest single ‘I Mean It All’ begins with a foggy guitar, evoking indiscernible radio transmissions. The mist is soon cleared, a clever misdirection giving weight to the entrance of a full body band, kept apace by a primitive electronic beat. Atop is an organ hook, panned back and forth, as if on board a rocky ship. Distorted vocals float in, reminiscent of Damon Albarn on much of Plastic Beach, as singer Jamie Taylor allows the musical setting into the subject matter, crooning: “I got seasick”.
After confessing to talking primarily nonsense, Taylor offers up unwavering sincerity: “I mean it all when I’m with you”. The double gesture of devotion and favouritism implicates him as insincere on other occasions, evoking the Zizekian notion that love à la mongonomy isn’t really that nice of a thing. But enough of that!
For all their shadowy veneer, Phobophobes clearly strive towards and work within a pop ballad framework. This is no challenge to their gothic credentials however, it is this sugar sweetness of the choruses and arrangements that allows them to do their most eerie work. They are at their best not when they berate their listener into despising the artificial, as they do on 2016 track ‘No Flavour’. Their finest moments are when Taylor’s phrasing and repetition detects the approved strangeness that occupies the mundane and under observed. The proclamation that “the only thing that’s real is beyond my wildest dreams,” is a typical Murphy line. It sits happily in its own Wildean cleverness and use of common language to transmogrifying returns, but its punch-line, bubble bursting style is fitting for the matter of reality running parallel to dreams.
I look forward to the new record Modern Medicine, released 25th June through Liverpool label Modern Sky. I suspect it will examine a similar terrain to Miniature World: a eulogy for the old human at the dawn of the posthuman.
Taylor and the Phobophobes have seen how the modern human is always returning to nature, away from the synthetic, never entirely situated within. Phobophobes are a good choice of band to navigate this sorry state; cool, clever psychedelic rock that is immediately pleasing but not limited or stunted by its own accessibility. They are not as shocking as their South London counterparts The Fat White Family – in their adorning of Country Teasers-style hate speech – but they have struggled, suffered, reassembled and marched on in much the same vein and have received a fraction of the acclaim.
I suspect Modern Medicine will be a psychedelic cross-examination of the paranoid self, in our search for authentic feeling in the age of great promise and meagre returns. From the previous single ‘Moustache Mike’ one can be confident they won’t fall into the trap – as many 60s revivalist bands do – of a misremembered glorious past, with Murphy singing about “Baby Jane waiting to die” and “faux nostalgia”.
Phobophobes are no day dreamers, while sonically they might dress from a retro closet, they are very much concerned with the present moment.
Review by Patrick Malone