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The wunderkinder of Phox are oftentimes defined by two things: their home town and their numbers. Hailing from the sleepy circus town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, singer Monica Martin and her band of merry men have lived a kind of fairy tale narrative since first breaking out at SXSW 2013. In just over a year they've found themselves supporting numerous national acts, playing iTunes Festival, and becoming one of the most critically fawned-over artists in the business despite not having previously released an album proper.


Phox is mainly comprised of tracks reworked from the band's two previous releases, with a scant number of new tunes peppered in. As is bound to happen, certain things have been lost in the translation, but the music is as charming as ever. Neo-soul and folk collide to combine one of the most straightforward indie albums in recent memory. Most outfits can't manage to tone down the frills when three or four members are involved. Phox manages the feat with all six of its members, crafting reserved tracks that sound like instant classics, sounding like long lost cuts off of a Joni Mitchell or Simon & Garfunkel album.

'Slow Motion', the lead single, is bright and infectious, acting as a sort of thesis for what the band represents. As a staple in the band's live sets and their go-to crowd pleaser, it's no surprise that the track found its way onto the tracklist. What is surprising, however, is how the track is nearly overshadowed by the breathtakingly tragic opener, Calico Man,' and the cool-as-a-shirt-in-Jay-Gatsby's-closet 'Leisure.' It'll be interesting to see how many of these tracks crack the Spotify Viral 50 in the upcoming weeks, since each and every one is a winner that seems custom-made for worming its ways into the brains and playlists of even the most cynical listeners.


Despite being comprised of a clan of self-proclaimed best friends who've spent the past few years living together in the same house, the songs are often wrought with feelings of loneliness. Monica always seems to be lamenting some aspect of lonesome life, whether the familial woe on '1936' or the betrayal of friends and lovers on 'Evil'. The album is haunted by this sense that no matter what good may happen to this troupe of musical friends, dread is always lurking around the corner. Even the best moments can be pock-marked by tragedy, and beneath all of their whimsical melodies, their tracks seem to all be testaments of this realization.

It's no secret that during their earliest shows, Monica would have terrible anxiety about being on stage, oftentimes drinking from a flask in between tracks and apologizing for her singing. This sort of tragically misplaced insecurity is apparent throughout her songwriting. It's hard not to feel a deep sadness each and every time Monica Martin sings "Did they already tell you / I'm a low-level poison to drink through? / I'd like to prove them wrong / But patterns show they're telling the truth." So many tracks are about cheap love and regret, whether on European streets or in the bedrooms of friends, but it doesn't stop there. For a band that's come so far so fast, it's understandable that the impostor syndrome may be an issue, no matter how critically acclaimed their music may be.

This sense of uncertainty is powerful, and what makes Phox one of the most honest and refreshing albums in recent years. In the end, whether the band believes it or not, the fact that this album exists is a triumph. Its existence says "You can fuck up and do things and regret them and know you're going to regret them, but you can get past it. You can pick yourself up." And it makes me believe that if you're lucky enough and persistent enough you can band together a bunch of broken people from fucked up situations and create a family and it can be beautiful. No matter how badly broken your life is, you can fix it. And you deserve to fix it. 


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