Phaseone: If I Tell U

Though sometimes approaching day spa schmaltz, this Brooklyn producer’s ambient pop recalls a Rephlex heyday while concurrently dabbling in the more contemporary sounds of ethereal R&B and trap.


If I Tell U

Label: Williams Street
US Release Date: 2013-05-07
Label Website
Artist Website

No matter what your opinion is of Harmony Korine’s nihilistic rom-com Spring Breakers, the soundtrack served as an informal microcosm of today’s electronic music culture. Its congruence of contrarieties -- Skrillex’s blissfully ignorant arena dubstep spooning Cliff Martinez’s lush yet introspectively muted soundscapes -- exposed a genetic homogeneity, effectively harmonizing that imperfect beauty with the film’s similarly flawed beauties. Such is the evocative potential of electronic music today, from the big room boom felt simultaneously by thousands of revelers to the cozy comforts of an immersive headphone session at home alone. An artist that can coax sonic resplendence out of his stubborn machines in both types of settings immediately accomplishes more than any well publicized, hotly tipped and carefully coiffed indie rock four-piece of the moment.

This makes If I Tell U’s arrival all the more compelling, as Phaseone -- a.k.a. Brooklynite Andrew Jernigan -- originally became known among blog habitués for his propitiously passable reworks of Animal Collective and Panda Bear material. His wanderlust, as well as a fatigue with the rap production hustle, steered him away from twee populism and led him to an sample-free approach to composition. Where less talented producers might have faltered, Jernigan clearly settled in comfortably with his precursors. Indeed, lacking the damage of Flying Lotus or Lapalux, Phaseone's ambient pop has more in common with classic Rephlex than current Brainfeeder.

Paralleling the work of AFX and Ceephax, If I Tell U is inextricably linked to the past yet still quite contemporary. “Tangiers” especially exemplifies this phenomenon best, with squelchy Vibertian acid stabs mingling with breathy vocal mutations and ethereal R&B pads. “Tropicalist” further connects the artist to that latter burgeoning movement, while cuts like “Bodega” and “Hunter” glimmer like mid-'90s braindance deep cuts. Nothing is ephemeral or slight here, as tracks unspool with a crushing glamor that would overwhelm in the club yet subdue in the intimacy of home listening. Opener “Blood Spirit I” spends more than eight minutes getting at this, halfstepping through a field of peaking arpeggios and delay-drenched croons.

Repetition, occasionally, works to the detriment of the oft lovely record. Though Phaseone’s reliance on subtle changes and knob twiddling may connect him to those aforementioned IDM antecedents, at times the music careens either unintentionally or ashamedly into new age insufferability. “Arsenal Magnolia” reminds of Tangerine Dream at their most cloying and saccharine. Closing cut “Phaseone” is pure day spa schmaltz, sounding much like the “time’s up” music one might hear at the end of a prenatal massage. That particular lowlight is jarring given what directly precedes it, the gloriously foggy and trap-influenced "Dialogue".

In the hands of a diabolical DJ, much of this material could metamorphose into hard hitting dancefloor fodder. If the marketing minds behind the Adult Swim backed Williams Street Records haven’t already begun thinking of a subsequent remix project, there’s a real opportunity lost. As it stands, If I Tell U features plenty of candidates for that late-night programming block’s infamous commercial break bumps. Yet the best way to experience this sometimes somber, recurrently rich album is with the television set off.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.