- King Britt's Fhloston Paradigm first appeared two years ago with a 12-inch for Hyperdub, on which the Philly producer's heady analogue jams seemed intriguing but lacking crucial context—like an extended trailer for a movie we never got to see. Now, with The Phoenix, he finally gives us that feature film, with moments of stage setting, tender introspection and some pretty great action scenes. Inspired heavily by Britt's love of sci-fi (the name comes from The Fifth Element), The Phoenix has all the starry-eyed wonder and hammy melodrama of a genre archetype. And like so many sci-fi films, it has its ups and downs, balancing brilliant turns with more humdrum scenes.
The transcendent "Race To The Moon" launches the album into space early on. It's a beauty: a revving engine of a synth line and some propulsive drums take it up into the stratosphere, letting it slip into a gorgeous free-floating breakdown where the synths twinkle like nearby stars. From there, The Phoenix has some trouble staying at those lofty heights, though it always remains in orbit. Many of the other tunes feel like variations on the same idea, going back to 2012's "Chasing Rainbows" (also included here). They're spiralling synth odysseys that sound like they're blasting off towards nowhere in particular, a wanderlust that can feel unpredictable or aimless, depending on your mood.
Britt wisely breaks up those longer tracks with shorter interludes, mood pieces with little synth curlicues and garbled snatches of radio transmission. There's a kitschy sense of theatre in these sketches, which Britt almost drives into the ground with the help of a few guest singers. Pia Ercole, his neighbour, who he discovered by accident, shows up on several songs, from wordless cooing on the swaggering "Letters Of The Past" to full-on opera singing on "Tension Remains." The latter is just as overwrought as it sounds on paper—Ercole's wailing doesn't mesh with the album's John Carpenter-inspired mood. Rachel Claudio gives a fine performance on "Never Defeated," the album's attempt at pop, but the track itself melts into a sticky mess of warmed-over synths. Only Natasha Kmeto finds a happy medium, closing the album with the clumsy but evocative line, "Why is the measure of love loss?" repeated over some especially ornate synth work from Britt.
Synthesizers are Fhloston Paradigm's best asset, and they make the album more about ear candy than content—The Phoenix is full of plush textures to pad all the chunky drums and sputtering analogue hiccups. But whether or not it can keep your attention is another story, and the album as a whole doesn't live up to its sci-fi conceit. There's something deliciously retro-futuristic about King Britt making space-age music with old machines, and it can be absolutely wonderful to listen to (check the nine-minute title track for a proper journey to the heavens and back). But if The Phoenix is that feature film we were waiting for, it could stand an edit or two.
01. Portal 1
02. Race To The Moon
03. Letters Of The Past feat. Pia Ercole
04. Chasing Rainbows
06. Never Defeated feat. Rachel Claudio
07. Tension Remains feat. Pia Ercole
08. It's All About feat. Pia Ercole
09. More feat. Marlo Reynolds
10. The Phoenix
11. Portal 3
12. Never Forget
13. Portal 4
14. Light On Edge feat. Natasha Kmeto