Clay: I seem to recall a conversation we had about there sometimes being bands that for whatever reason, you just want to get behind. I am pretty sure we recorded it, but I can’t tell for sure. The band we were discussing was none other than Oakland’s Phosphene, then duo of vocalist/guitarist Rachel Frankel and drummer Matt Hemmerich.
At the risk of sounding paternalistic, we have watched this band grow right before our eyes, from the initial EP two years ago, to last year’s demos, to now an full length LP recorded in analog at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco (Spoon, Death Cab For Cutie, and a ton of other great bands). The nine track release shows some real promise as well as some room for growth.
Greg: I vaguely recall such a conversation, but what has me hung up is the fact that we’ve come across a quality sound out of the Bay Area, that’s a new one to me.
In all seriousness though, this is probably as good of a time as any to admit that I have been sitting primarily sideline to one of the most intriguing sounds I’ve heard in quite some time. Nanobot has covered quite a bit of Phosphene leading to this point without much of my input. I suppose I was waiting to see where it all headed, but I can’t keep my opinion hidden any longer. This is one hell of a break-out LP.
Clay: Before we start handing out the hardware, let’s take a look at what we have. We have a band that was a three piece and released an EP, scrapped that EP and recorded a demo as a two-piece, added bassist Kevin Kaw and then wrote and recorded an LP. For good measure, they added Sarah Hobin on cello. Through all that, things can get creatively chaotic; the nine tracks go a ton of different directions, from simple guitar chord progressions and a classic surf sound of “Metric,” to dark brooding National territory on “Crime,” to jangly punk on “Go To Sleep” (that has you doing anything but) and veering hard into Radiohead “Weird Fishes” territory on “Wire” before pulling into more unique ground.
And I love every minute of it. Some of my favorite albums are the ones that refuse to be thematically pinned down and explore multiple sounds, whether it be the aforementioned sounds, or Hemmerich tapping into something tribal in the tail end of the already somber “Dark Light,” Frankel’s low register gliding through poetry both cerebral and cathartic, and the meditative closer “Ranier.” This is everything I want a debut indie release to be and more. To quote a friend that I all but coerced into listening to this record, “I want to drive in the rain to this album.”
Greg: I couldn’t disagree with you more. Sure there is the creative breakdown and rebuild that occurred for their sound, but as a whole I feel it stays on a very distinctive track. All nine tracks play out under a shroud of almost muted assembly, which struck me as odd in the beginning. It almost seemed the levels when they went into the studio were capped and the range wasn’t going to come through. But then the veil was severed by Frankel’s vocals, creating a captivating juxtaposition throughout the record. Diving into the structural aspect of the record and claiming a plethora of directions is either missing the individuality, the purpose or the magic of the record; or you’re just too deep into Phosphene to see the Phosphene.
But each person may discover this album differently and that is the glory of music. For one band to grasp this ability in their debut tells me this current lineup may be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Don’t take our word for it, get a copy for yourself and discover Phosphene.
Clay and Greg co-founded Nanobot. Though they agree on most things, they are at odds over which Doctor Who villain is the coolest, who would win a jousting competition and Kyle Orton.