Regrettably lost in the ears-ringing chaos of my coverage from South by Southwest last March was any mention of Phox, a sextet from Baraboo, Wisc. whose set of charmingly fragile but nonetheless impressive indie-folk-rock/low-key ork-pop/woodsy psychedelia a la the Incredible String Band impressed me as much as anything else I saw. So let me make it up by giving an early nod to the group’s self-titled debut album, which officially drops on June 24.
Recorded at Justin Vernon’s home studio in Eau Claire, the breathy vocals of singer Monica Martin are front and center throughout the dozen tracks on Phox; some have glowingly compared here to Feist, though I hear a duskier Billie Holiday soulfulness that Leslie F. and her many imitators lack. But Phox absolutely is a band—listen to the way the instruments build to a gorgeous swell in the climax to the gorgeously lazy six-minute “Laura,” or how the players vary the dynamics and intertwine their melodic lines in “Slow Motion” and “Satyr and the Faun.” It all makes for the perfect summer soundtrack to while away a lazy afternoon beside a burbling brook—or for your more urban version of that Wisconsin idyll.
Phox, Phox (Partisan Records)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 3 stars.