Phideaux
   
Number Seven
   
   

Release Date: June 26, 2009
Produced by: Gabriel Moffat
Format: CD

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12/11/2009
Bob Metcalf


 

I’m quite sure that many of you reading this will not have heard of Phideaux and with my review today I not only want to detail the new album, Number Seven, but give some general information and history about this wonderful group.  The band is named after Phideaux Xavier, the principal singer and songwriter who plays acoustic guitar, electric 12-string and piano.  He is joined on the current album, coincidentally their Seventh, by the complete touring band: Ariel Farber – violin, vocals, Valerie Gracious – vocals, Rich Hutchins – drums, chanting, Matthew Kennedy – bass, chanting, Gabriel Moffat – electric guitar, lap steel, producer, Molly Ruttan – vocals, percussion, Linda Ruttan-Moldawsky – vocals, Mark Sherkus – keyboards, electric guitar, and Johnny Unicorn – keyboards, sax, vocals, chanting.  Whew, quite a lineup, but an amazing group of talented folks they are. 

Number Seven was conceived and recorded between the second and the soon-to-be-recorded third part of a trilogy, which began in 2006 (The Great Leap) and continued in 2007 (Doomsday Afternoon) - more on their other releases in a bit.  Number Seven is a concept album that has as its main characters a dormouse, shrew, crawfish and other beasts that partake of a journey of discovery and ultimate peace with comparisons to our own human condition.  Stunning artwork (see cover) accompany the lyrics in the beautiful booklet.  The music overall has several dominant influences to my ears: Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Renaissance’s Turn of the Cards, Camel’s Rain Dances and David Bowie’s Hunky Dory – quite an interesting and superb collection to pull from.  I want to be clear that the music as a whole doesn’t sound exactly like any one of these classics.  What you do hear over the course of the 16 tracks are beautiful piano interludes, some bordering on Chopin-like etudes, sweeping symphonic keyboards, introspective chamber music, folk, and shorter, heavy songs that develop into long instrumental passages – in other words, the best of modern progressive rock.  It is definitely keyboard oriented, but Gabriel Moffat can churn out heavy guitar (not metal) and he does so here and there.  

Phideaux’s voice reminds me of David Bowie’s and though this is a California band, it has an “Englishness” to it that personally really appeals to me.  The songs mainly blend into one another and are comprised of three suites: Dormouse Ensnared (5 parts), Dormouse Escapes (7 parts) and Dormouse Enlightened (4 parts), with some recurring musical themes that pull the whole work together.  The beautiful female vocals also add great counterpoint to Phideaux’s – he definitely gives equal time to all the musicians on this CD.  I can strongly recommend Number Seven to anyone who likes to sit and be swept away with the long song and the concept album.  This is a great place to start if you haven’t heard Phideaux before; I would say that this is representative of his work of the past couple of years.  You can check out his My Space site or his label site Bloodfish, and listen to samples of this intriguing and exciting music!


I mentioned that Number Seven is a good sampling of Phideaux’s recent music, but I want to comment a bit on his other six works.  Phideaux Xavier began his career in a new wave band in New York over twenty years ago and then seemingly disappeared for a time. 
It’s important to note the New Wave connection, as the somewhat sparse and dark sound of Fiendish (2004) has a lot of the same qualities as bands like Gene Loves Jezebel or later-period Japan and other bands of that heavy, moody quality.  On Fiendish, he plays only piano and Gabriel Moffat adds just the right amount of electric guitar over the course of eleven melodic and more traditionally structured songs.  Each song is hook-worthy but in an intellectual way for those that prefer thinking short songs (again, like on Hunky Dory). 
Ghost Story, also from 2004, is described as a “lullabye in nine movements” but is far from sleepy music.  The band is heavier on this release, the nine songs a bit longer, the guitars playing more solos over a more percussive rhythm section.  Phideaux only plays guitars on this recording, which also adds to the louder rock feel.  A comparison I would make is the jump like Bowie made from Hunky Dory to Ziggy Stardust. 


Chupacabras (2005) presents a number of longer, darker and more progressive songs that had been composed during the time of the first two albums but were held back as they didn’t fit in.  This album represents a taste of what was to come with works like Doomsday Afternoon and Number Seven – longer, multi-part songs with changeups, dynamics and suites as you find on earlier Kansas and Camel albums.  The guitars and keyboards interact and play against one another breaking occasionally for acoustic guitar and quiet atmospheres.  This recording also introduces female vocals and chanting to his work.  (For those that may not know, a chupacabras is a supposed monster living in the Americas that kills livestock by draining their blood).
313 (2006) blends tracks actually recorded in one day, March 13, 2004 with other bits up to 2006.  It returns once again to shorter songs, but to my ears, it blends Fiendish and Ghost Story with larger production and even mellotron samples in places.  One song incorporates the theme from Grieg’s Pier Gynt/Mountain King so you never know what is around the corner on this CD.  But it also rocks out in places too – this I would think would be a great place to start if you wanted to experience a sampling of his first few recording years.


The Great Leap (2006), the start of a trilogy about modern society (this one is subtitled “a celebration of lemmings”) mixes it up once again – heavy songs, long songs, ballads, French horn, flute, recorder, keyboards, sitar, male and female vocalists.  I would call this a modern take on The Beatles’ Sgt Peppers/Magical Mystery Tour period; his first true progressive work with all kinds of influences mixed together to perfection. 
Doomsday Afternoon (2007), subtitled “an eco terror tale” and part 2 of the trilogy, focuses on the dangers of technology and the connection with our fragile ecology.  Divided into two acts, the album takes us on a journey like The Wall or perhaps Alan Parson’s I Robot – themes roll into each other, building to climaxes with the addition of a seven piece orchestra as well as the full band used on Number Seven.  I would call this the most symphonic of his works, and not just because of the presence of the strings and horns of the orchestra.  The songs themselves are meant to be large; another comparison I would make would be Ayreon’s work without the metal elements.  All and all, it takes the structure of Doomsday and moves even farther into progressive realms.

I will conclude now (maybe you’re relieved!) but I felt it important to inform music lovers of this great and mostly undiscovered talent.  Each album is different but I hope I have given enough comparative information to entice you to give Phideaux a try.  Two more points I would make: the sound on all of the recordings is first rate – rich, clear and powerful – modern rock with production values equal to, say, Porcupine Tree releases; and the other is that an EP is on its way as an addition to Number Seven called 7 ½ - I can’t wait!

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 



 
     
     
     

 

 

   
 
     

 

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