PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Phox: Phox

Epiphanies emerge and fade and come back again. The tempo stays steady and deliberate even when individual players pick up speed when adding baroque touches to the composition; an aural rendition of an optical illusion.



Label: Partisan
US Release Date: 2014-06-24
UK Release Date: Import

After repeatedly listening to Phox’s delightful first full-length release and seeing the band perform marvelously live more than once, their songs still maintain their mystery. That doesn’t make them meaningless. Rather the meanings seem to be derived from the sounds of the words mixed with instrumentation. The lyrics themselves are somewhat ambiguous and evocative of moods and feelings. Phox slyly avoid being pinned down, but do so in a way that you feel you know what the tunes mean even when that impression evaporates the more you dwell upon it. The music, like the world around us, remains enigmatic.

Lead singer Monica Martin annunciates clearly. The band members play behind and along with her, so it’s not that a matter of the words being heard. The sextet has been together since high school in Baraboo, Wisconsin—home of the Circus World Museum. Indeed, there is something carnivalesque about Phox’s pop psychedilca that ranges from folk to jazz to alt indie rock within and between songs. For example, the wonderfully effervescent “Slow Motion” begins with a plucked banjo, then vocals, whistles, hand claps, and additional musical instruments join into the mix that goes from quiet to not too loud and back again without ever losing momentum. Sometimes it’s the bass line that carries the weight, other times it is a piano, a clarinet, or a drum, or something else. It does not matter as epiphanies emerge and fade and come back again. The tempo stays steady and deliberate even when individual players pick up speed when adding baroque touches to the composition; an aural rendition of an optical illusion. What you think you hear and what you hear may not be the same thing. Fast or slow—it’s all the same thing really, depending on context.

Martin’s voice requires description as she has a distinctive way of phrasing. She sings each word or phrase as if the words come to her as a pleasant surprise. Hence, she continues to astonish the listener. Martin sounds seriously playful. So even in a song called “Evil” with lines like, “Face deep in between my best friend's knees”, there’s a childlike quality to what’s going on. Maybe face deep between a friend’s knees means something innocent. Heck if I know what the song is really about; however, the chortle in Martin’s suggests otherwise.

Despite Martin’s prominent role, Phox are more than just her and a backup group. The rest of the players continue to shine when she is not present. Consider the long and beautiful instrumental coda (if one can consider five minutes of a seven minute song a coda) that ends “Raspberry Seed”. The combination of acoustic guitar and strings with quiet horns and steady drumming creates an infectious ambiance with a haunting redolence of old movie westerns.

There was a time in American history when the Midwest was the Old West. The Wisconsin-based Phox intimates that aura of being a stranger in a strange land. Their music is more atmospheric than centered and gives the impression of always going somewhere down the road. Frederick Jackson Turner theorized the American frontier disappeared more than 100 years ago, but music by American bands like Phox reveals there is more to wilderness than just land. It can be a state of mind, and it is far from being conquered. You do not have to be an animal to explore it, but being a resourceful vulpine doesn’t hurt!


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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