Phoxjaw – Royal Swan

There have been some stunning debuts in the last few years. Half a decade’s worth of phenomenal music punctuated by brilliant beginnings. Whether it’s the progressive post-hardcore stylings of Black Peaks, the all-out punk barrage of HECK or now, the difficult to pigeonhole debut LP from Bristolian alternative rockers, Phoxjaw, bands at the precipice of exciting careers seem to be abound. This new and emerging British scene is something that many people entrenched in the underground hold very dear, with rabid fandoms emerging across social media and more importantly, in the cramped confines of independent venues, where passion drips from the walls like the sweat of the dedicated masses. There has never been a more important time to be championing these burgeoning bands than in the hellscape of 2020. Loss of touring revenue, delayed album releases and a skewed approach to promotion may see many of the country’s best and brightest bite the dust. But if the quality of music being produced warrants the fervent response it deserves; we may see these shining future stars continue with their upward trajectory. You cannot tie them down, even with diamond chains.

Phoxjaw are a curio in the British scene. Difficult to tie down to a single genre, their previous release – A Playground for Sad Adults – was a phenomenal EP that seemed to be the bridge between Mr Bungle and Deftones. But their debut LP, Royal Swan, is a yet another curveball from the quartet. Starting with the delicate, sombre refrain that makes up intro track, Charging Pale Horses, we get a feel for a band valiantly pushing themselves into new frontiers. This is something any lasting artist ought to do, and more often than not, does do. Trophies in the Attic opens with its melancholic, minimalist guitar work allowing for a sweet vocal melody that laments days gone by to lead the charge into a pallid landscape. It is juxtaposed by the heavily tremolo picked bridge to the chorus, an equally dour affair that sees the band reminisce halcyon days with a sense of regret, urgency and frustration. It gives way to the record’s second single, Triple AAA, which is ostensibly inspired by Brtipop in its chantable vocal lines and hook laden chorus. Musically we see dissonance battle with more traditional melody to make the song a wonderful clash of ideas that feel cohesive throughout despite the disparate nature of the two styles of music being played. It’s at this point you begin to really appreciate Phoxjaw’s inimitable style, the sense of unique identity they have so clearly found in the creation of this record. A Playground for Sad Adults was weirdos playing big riffs from the rulebook. Royal Swan is mavericks writing their own.

Those who found their love of Phoxjaw in songs like Whale, Whale, Whale on the previous EP need not worry; there is still sludge on this record. You Don’t Drink A Unicorn’s Blood is a down-tempo journey through heavy riffing and minimalist verse guitars before turning into a mosh-ready slam in its middle eight. Similarly, penultimate track, The Monk, exists around a backbone of slime, oozing effortless riffs beneath the clipped vocals. This is all well and good and very heavy, but the heaviest moments on this record come from the lyrical narrative of lamentations and the desperation of vocal performances on Half House and the titular final track. This is a deceptively weighty record masquerading as accessible alt-rock.

Across this record we find well-conceived and brilliantly executed concurrent melodies playing off one another; the interplay between the stringed instruments and the dual vocals is marvellous. The performances across this record are all laudable from the instantaneousness of the guitar work to the understated smashing of percussion. Everything is just right, meticulously placed and planned but with a feel of effortlessness, a lackadaisical attitude to creating great music. Infinite Badness sees the band at their most relaxed, the auditory equivalent of resting on a divan eating grapes as they reel off this louche ballad. It’s probably the weakest moment on the record, and still manages to inspire a sense of triumph.

With their debut album, Phoxjaw have created something great. A record that will stand the test of time and stand up against critique due to the strength of its performances and the conviction of the players involved. It may lack the apparent spontaneity of the preceding EPs, but in bringing things to a more planned end they have created something that is only a hair’s breadth in quality away. This is a fantastic record, and regardless of the plea that opened this review to lend a hand to young, struggling artists, this is a must listen. Phoxjaw should be labelled in the “protect at all costs” category of UK bands; the kind of frontrunner of the industry we need to nurture and allow the space to have what will doubtless be a sterling career. It’s bold, it’s daring, it’s brilliant.

Phoxjaw’s Royal Swan is out July 3rd via Hassle Records.

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