The Phoenix Foundation - Fandango

By James Manning

Released April 26th, 2013 - Universal

Fandango is a sprawling, progressive indie-folk body representing a band at their peak, armed with the confidence to indulge in their sonic ambitions. Not only have New Zealand starlets The Phoenix Foundation returned with their highly anticipated fifth album, but they've played the double album gamble, a natural progression after their trump-card winnings in 2010's Buffalo perhaps, but a risky move nonetheless. Does it pay off? Yes, for the most part.

Opener 'Black Mould' sets the tone for the next 78 minutes, a fuzzy-folk gem with keys sprinkled over top, and some humorous wordplay that rolls with the gentle rhythms, as lead singer Samuel Flynn Scott speaks of an isolated, damp, "valley of the saggy where the sun never kissed."

The album was partly recorded in a barn in the depths of the NZ countryside, in winter, and the production and song structures somewhat reflect the setting. Every number flourishes down its own winding path, exploring ever-changing psych-tinged sceneries with that warm, 80s nostalgia the Wellington bunch excel in. It's easy to feel lost, but it's a definite cosy ride.

Lead single 'The Captain' shuffles with a catchy retro synth, while the pitter-patter percussion of 'Modern Rock' jolts into a second act, and 'Supernatural' features some entrancing guitar work that fades into whispy electronics.

Some ideas however, outstay their welcome, like the dragging 'Inside Me Dead', and scatter-brain 'Morning Riff'; but hey, two outta twelve ain't bad.
For all their eccentricities, TPF certainly know how to dabble in suspense, and it's here that the double album truly takes flight. 'Corale' begins as an acoustic lullaby before the solar powered winds mark change midway; the vocals surrender, the amps kick in, an aggressive guitar-driven stunner tears through, and tension filters off right before climax. The teasing bastards.

The suspense is stretched to extremes on album closer, Friendly Society, a 17 minute, Meddle-era Pink Floyd referencing epic. Taking up most of the second disc, it encompasses all that is Fandango, but will no doubt split public opinion for its length. Hang in there though, for its more than worth it.

All in all, the album is best avoided by the impatient, but those willing to dive headfirst will find much joy in its mountainous tranquillity. Another great addition to their name.

4 / 5