Phosphene – Lotus Eaters
It feels like an entire age has passed by since I first reviewed Phosphene. That said, the way this year has gone even January feels like a century ago, so feel free to take that statement with a grain of salt. My point being this wasn’t a record I wanted to rush in to, rather I felt the need to bask in it and reacquaint myself with their take on dream pop. One thing that became abundantly clear is that the band haven’t lost their knack for making hypnotic records. Lotus Eaters is the kind of album that can eat up your entire day if you’re not careful, spinning on repeat as you lose track of the hours. So too does the band still have a penchant for cool covers. The simple and elegant album artwork has got to be one of my favourites of 2020.
The fact that the record pulled me in so deeply at first suggested that this record was more of the same fare from Phosphene. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it after all, and tracks like ‘Spiral’ and ‘Carousel’ offer just the kind of dreamy haze I was hoping to find. The expressive rhythm section, the densely layered guitar soundscapes and the bright melodies that dance above it all. It’s everything I’ve come to expect of the band. There’s something entrancing about its nebulous feeling, like fog caught in the moonlight or distant storm clouds aglow from the setting sun.
It’s easy to get lost in the surface fog, but dig deeper and you start to notice a shift in the band’s sound. While the hazy atmosphere is always present it does feel toned down on this latest release. The guitars don’t paint quite such a dense backdrop as on Breaker, nor does this new record featured layered vocal harmonies. The latter in particular does sadly feel like an absent magic touch that would have otherwise elevated the whole record. On some tracks like ‘Cocoon’ and ‘The Wave’ it definitely feels like too much of the gorgeous atmosphere has been stripped away. With little more than a bass line and vocals, it’s hard not to feel like there’s something missing in these moments.
That’s not to say Lotus Eaters doesn’t give as well as it takes. This record has a lot more drive and purpose, adding a reinvigorating shot of energy to the mix. ‘Incinerate’ and ‘Skyscraper Shade’ which bookend the album both offer an opening salvo of brilliant expressive drum work followed up with simple but compelling earworm riffs. The former even boasts a wonderfully bright and airy guitar solo. ‘The Body’ has an underlying tension to it, and maintains a dark mystique throughout that subtly sets it apart from the rest of the record. However it’s ‘Incandescent Plumes’ that stands out most as the album highlight. The rhythm section is on fire here, veering into post punk territory with its complex and commanding arrangement, and the guitar solo at its close blazes into life like a Catherine wheel.
I can certainly admire the intention behind how this record holds back from using past formulas as too much of a crutch and giving new ideas room to stand on their own. Every endeavour that Phosphene makes in order to expand their sound works wonderfully and feels like a natural progression for the band. Progress doesn’t always mean leaving the past behind though, it also can mean building upon it. As such I look forward to hearing the dreamy soundscapes and ethereal harmonies that make Breaker so bewitching, and the energy and drive found here on Lotus Eaters, combined on future releases and seeing all the pieces come together.